Stop Multitasking!

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by Dana on July 18, 2012

This week, I want to talk to you about multitasking. I know this is one way we’re all trying to make up for a lack of time, but studies have shown that multitasking actually gives us a false sense of productivity.

So first, I’d like to clear up two myths around multitasking. First, there is really no such thing as multitasking. It is impossible to do two things at once. What we call multitasking is really switching back and forth very quickly between two tasks. And secondly, when you are doing this — switching back and forth between tasks — it actually reduces your efficiency. It takes our brains a bit of time to ramp up for each task we’re working on, so that extra ramp-up time just adds to the time it takes to complete what we’re working on.

Here are my top tips for increasing your efficiency by staying focused on one thing at a time:

  1. Make sure you’re working from a “to do” list each day — and make sure you don’t allow yourself to move on to your next task until the one you’re working on is completed.
  2. When you’re working on a task that you know is going to take a long time to complete, work in 15-30 minute increments. If you try to push yourself further than that, you will likely find yourself tempted by the distractions around you. Give yourself a 5-minute breather in between your bursts of work (e.g., get a glass of water, get up and walk around, etc.), but don’t let yourself get pulled into another task during that time.
  3. Always have a notebook and pen by your side. This way, when a thought comes to you about something else you need to get done, you can write it down and forget about it until you complete the task you’re working on.
  4. Make sure your surroundings are as clear and uncluttered as possible to reduce your distractions.
  5. Use a mantra to re-focus you when you find yourself being tempted to multitask. For example, I repeat the word “focus” to myself when I’m in danger of getting distracted. You can even keep a little sticky note on your desk to keep it top of mind.