Being a master of multi tasking….or perhaps not

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We are always connected and always online. The accessibility to data and information from the small device in our pocket is just incredible. The number of apps provided this information or carrying out focused and specific tasks is always growing too. What we find however is a greater need to keep up with it all. With the ever-growing demands on our time and concentration, luckily there are two ways to attack it. The first is to be more productive and this can be achieved in many ways. Secondly we just need to multi task. Become the master of multitasking and you will conquer and tame that wave after wave of information. If you are in the work place, your employer will love the multitasking too.

So that’s it then – sorted and end of the post. Well, maybe not quite.

 You see, there is evidence that multi tasking may not be all that it is cracked up to be. In fact recent studies have shown a few nasty side effects to this remedy. Being less productive and more stressed are just two of them. Let’s consider each it turn but only quickly as we need to move on to that next task:
Less productive
It is said that the constant switching is actually less productive than we might think. This was backed up by a recent study by Stanford University backed this up. The brain has to move from one thing to another and cope with new information. Within a work place a recent survey found that people “change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour”. Surely that is an inefficient way to going about things. All the time the brain has to re-adjust and this makes it more prone to distraction, which only leads to inefficiencies.
Less focus
This constant switching of tasks and having to process new information actually leads to the fact we find it harder to focus. Consequently we find ourselves fading in and out of the tasks. The quality of the work reduces and we become more error prone. At the same time we are also more prone to distraction. Other times the distraction itself can cause us to have to multi task. You may be in the middle of that budget review when a colleague stops by to ask a question and so you may end up trying to deal with both activities.
How to stop multitasking
  • Stop checking email, constantly. Instead allocate specific times for it like 2 slots per day. Also while we are on the subject turn of any audible or visual alerts for new incoming emails. You don’t need to know that an email has just come in while you are in the middle of that report. It will still be there on your next scheduled email period.
  • Plan your day in blocks. Plan your day so that you allocate time to very specific tasks. Don’t make these blocks too long. Not only does  Parkinson’s law come to mind (work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion), but more importantly you will not be able to keep your concentration levels up for very long periods. Better than to keep them short, have a break and then perhaps have another block. Blocks could be as little as 15 minutes.
  • Keep a to do list. When you get that interruption from say a colleague. Tell them that you need to focus on your current task but will do all you can to get back to them quickly. Note it down and then get back to the task.
  • Leave a clue. Ok so you have been interrupted and it is not something that can be put of. Instead of jumping to the next task, quickly make a couple of notes on status of your current task. Doing so will help you to capture your current thought. This means that when you return to it, you will find it easier to pick it up where you left it as you will have left yourself a few clues.
  • Be in the moment. Our minds will wander and unfortunately at times it will do nothing but wander. Ensure you make a conscious decision to focus on your current task. Telling yourself to be in the moment and acknowledging this can help to keep you focused.
  • Environment. You know the saying tidy environment = tidy mind. When doing something that requires your focus, first take a moment that the working environment will stimulate focus. If on the computer then close all (yes all) the apps and taps that are not linked to what you are about to do. At times I do my most important work in one of the conference rooms as I know it is a large space, well-lit and  with little distractions.
  • Just work on 1 task at a time – it’s as simple as that.

5 Comments


  1. Reblogged this on Getting Things Done accountant and commented:
    Sometimes I step away from the desk and walk (or lie down if I’m at home) and concentrate on things. Taking a breather allows you to see the solutions to the immediate obstacles.

    It also allows you to avoid sending an email that just adds to confusion.

    Reply

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