How to Avoid Multitasking

doctor octopus multitasking

Multitasking at work is a bad idea. If you didn’t know that already, then check this article out. In it, the author makes the case that multitasking lowers your IQ, reduces your performance, and kills your efficiency. And—wait for it—it even causes brain damage.

Talk about attention grabbing. When you’re in between a bunch of different tasks, maybe you think to yourself (as I often do), “I’m a pretty good multitasker. Other people can’t handle it, but I know what I’m doing.”

Yeah well next time you catch yourself doing that, I have two words for you: BRAIN DAMAGE.

Anyway, it’s a story we’ve heard a million times before: multitasking is an inefficient way to work.

Unfortunately, bouncing around between tasks is like checking your email: you always have the urge to do it. So how can you avoid multitasking? Here are some quick tips to stave off the MT monster:

Read Email in Batches

This is an old favorite: instead of having your email open all day and watching those pesky notifications pop up on your screen every time someone emails you, turn them off and stop letting email rule your day.

Instead, check your email three or four times a day. Want proof that this will work? Think back to the last time you had a bunch of meetings in a row and couldn’t check email. What happens when you get back to your desk and are faced with 37 new emails?

You go into triage mode: you identify which ones are the most important and address those first. Then you move on to the ones you can resolve with minimal work (no research, no waiting on something from someone else, etc.), and last but not least you tackle the ones that require more of your time.

Have you ever had 30 minutes to triage 37 new emails before your next block of meetings? It’s pretty impressive how fast you can clean your inbox out, isn’t it?

Well, that’s the point behind this strategy. Instead of spending two minutes every time you get an email, you spend 30 minutes to address 37 emails. Do the math, it’s way more efficient.

How do you set aside the time to process your email amidst your busy day? Read on for the next tip…

Fill Up Your Calendar

Your calendar isn’t only there for other people to fill it up with their needs and wants. Don’t forget, that’s your calendar. It’s your time. So set aside the time that you need to do your job as best you can.

That means time for actual work. For email processing. To complete the tasks that you need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time for.

At the beginning of the week, I like to check my Tasks (we use Outlook and I’ve started using Tasks, which has been really helpful) and plan out my time for the rest of the week.

Do I need to write a set of requirements? 30 minutes on Monday afternoon.

Research some competitors’ social-media strategies? 30 minutes on Tuesday.

Meeting on Thursday to talk about analytics? Better schedule 15 minutes right before to review the latest numbers.

I book time on my calendar to get all these things done. This way you’ll actually have time to get all your work done. People won’t be able to schedule meetings all over your valuable time and you’ll set yourself up for success.

Prioritize

In the spirit of planning your day and your week, think of all the tasks you have to accomplish or the emails you have to process in terms of where they belong in the lifecyle of a project.

If you need to answer a quick question to keep a project moving forward, do those first. You don’t want to be the bottleneck.

There are also fires that have to be put out, so those need your attention first.

Here’s the thing though: most emails can wait. I know people like to get an answer ASAP, but I’d estimate that 60% of the email we get is non critical.

Keep this in mind in your initial assessment of your tasks and your emails.

Headphones

When all else fails, if people are interrupting you and chopping your day up into a million useless pieces, then put on a pair of headphones and zone everybody else out. I’ve found this helpful when I need to focus on what I’m doing for 30 minutes or even an hour.

Sometimes I’ll notice people come up to my desk, see me, and walk off. Other times they’ll still interrupt me but will be very apologetic and quickly leave after I answer their question.

The point is, when  you really need to be left alone you sometimes have to go to extremes. If you have a hard time being firm with people and saying “No” to the infamous “do you have a second?” then this is a good option for you.

Bonus Tip: How do you get work?

On a quiet day at my last job, I was trying to figure out a more efficient way to process all the tasks that ended up on my to-do list. If only there was some way to get through it all faster and better and with less stress. I thought about it for a little bit and wound up jotting three things down in my notebook:

  • Emails
  • Meetings
  • Notes in notebook

These were the three ways that I got work assigned to me. That was it—I either got an email asking me for something or I came out of a meeting with a list of things to do or someone stopped at my desk and I would jot it down in my notebook.

That was it. This realization made everything feel much more manageable.

All I had to do was to funnel all my work to those three channels, because I felt like I could handle any amount of work if it was just coming in through those three places.

If someone called me and asked me for osmething, I’d jot it down in my notebook.

If someone stopped me in the hallway and asked me for something and I didn’t have my notebook, I’d ask them to please send me an email with the details so I could process it there (otherwise I would forget).

If something happened outside of those three channels, I would redirect them into one of the three so I could handle it that way.

Then all I had to do was create systems to process all my work through those channels. By only having to focus on three ways of getting work, I became more efficient and reduced the amount of stress I had to deal with.

Image by JD Hancock

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