12 Smart Ways to Get Your Work Done Without Multitasking
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking does not save time.
In fact, it actually hinders your ability to get your work done. Doing more in less time is a failed business strategy that doesn’t produce the kind of results we expected.
Multitasking is Counterproductive
Turns out, multitasking can be counterproductive.
According to a Stanford University study, individuals attempting to complete several tech-oriented tasks at once (watching online videos, sending email, IMing, etc.) didn’t actually get any of the tasks done better or more efficiently.
Using 100 students as a testing pool, the researchers found that those who identified themselves as “multitaskers” didn’t pay attention as well, didn’t switch from task-to-task as well as the mono-taskers, and had weaker memories.
Another study, from the University of California at Irvine, monitored interruptions among office personnel. Researchers found that it took an average of 25 minutes for workers to recover from interruptions such as phone calls and emails and return to their original tasks.
Multitasking is Inefficient
The inefficiency of multitasking underscores what we heard in high school: the human brain can only effectively process one stream of information at a time.
People assume that they can toggle between tasks quickly and efficiently, but such multitasking comes with consequences. It takes time for the brain to reorient itself to a new task.
Distractions can also take their toll, putting the multitasker at an even bigger disadvantage over those who work on “one thing at a time.”
Unfortunately, multitasking seems to have become almost a requirement in today’s business world.
Add technology to the mix and the need to double and triple-up on tasks becomes even greater as professionals are expected to manage email, deal with IMs, monitor cell phones, AND get their jobs done – all at the same time.
How to Get Your Job Done Without Multitasking
If you’ve fallen into this trap, check out these 12 ways to get your job done without multitasking:
- Prioritize your workload. A study from Florida State University shows that our willpower declines throughout the day. Knowing this, try and get the most important, pressing projects done first, when you are energized and focused.
Then when your willpower deficit kicks in at 4 pm, you will have already completed your must-do tasks for the day. Fixate on what’s most important and put 100% into getting it done before those afternoon doldrums kick in.
- Eat the frog first. Having a hard time figuring out how to prioritize your workload? Take a 5 minute break and ask yourself: What’s the most important task I need to complete today? Then take the advice of business author Brian Tracey and “Eat that frog!”
Tackle the critical, undesirable task first – the frog– and the remainder of your “to do” list will line up nicely for the rest of the day. Your relief at having accomplished the most undesirable project will fuel you to crank through the rest of your work.
- Always use a to-do list. Flying by the seat of your pants is a surefire way to fail at mono-tasking. Instead of giving 100% of your attention to the most important task, you’ll be giving 10% of your attention to 10 different things.
But are they the right things to be doing right now? Unless you create a to-do list and prioritize your work, you could spend the whole day on unimportant work and ignore critical action items.
- Record or jot down your random thoughts. Business professionals and entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with great ideas, but not always at the best times.Keep a tablet or voice recorder on your desk and record those million-dollar ideas as they occur to you throughout the day.
After you write them down, you can forget about them as you work on more pressing tasks. This way you won’t forget your brainstorms, but you also won’t become distracted and try to multitask.
- Make note of where you are. When the need to multitaskcan’t be ignored, because you have too little time to complete too many tasks, make note of where you are with the task at-hand.
Use simple key words to help redirect your brain back to the key task and ensure a smooth transition from the distraction and back to work.
- Don’t overschedule yourself. In today’s busy world it’s pretty common for all of us to over-commit ourselves in our personal, family, and work lives.
Leaving some time open on your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules ensures that you have ample time to get important tasks completed without having to jump into inefficient multitasking mode.
- Use the Pareto Principle. Founded on the theory that 80% of effectiveness is driven by 20% of our efforts, the Pareto Principle is a core time management theory that’s advocated in many of today’s business books.Put simply, only 20 percent of what you do every day really “matters.”
That 20 percent, in other words, represents 80 percent of your results.The trick is to identify exactly what work makes up that 20 percent, and then focus tightly on those activities.
This 80/20 rule should serve as a cornerstone for your day, and a reminder that 80 percent of your time and energy should flow into that 20 percent of tasks that are actually important.
By channeling your energy into the “right” things, instead of multitasking your way through jobs and projects that produce little in terms of results, you’ll significantly increase profits and job satisfaction.
- Group similar tasks and tackle them all at once. A great way to get everything crossed off of your to-do list without having to multitaskis by grouping similar tasks to be done throughout the day.
If you’re writing up a proposal, for example, you may want to develop the required PowerPoint presentation for that proposal at the same time – since your brain will be in the “mode” and won’t need to work too hard to switch from one format to the next.
Or if you have phone calls to make to your team, or to clients, make them one right after the other, rather than spread throughout the day. You’re more efficient that way.
- Don’t be a slave to email. Email is one of the biggest distractions in our workdays. All it takes is a simple note from a colleague, client, or business partner to throw our brains into a whirlwind and drive us off course – and right back into multitasking mode.
Rather than checking your inbox dozens of time a day (or, hour) do all reading and replaying at pre-scheduled intervals (9am, 12pm, and 5pm, for example). This type of “batching” can greatly improve productivity and ensure that you get your most important tasks completed without distraction.
- Evaluate the time it takes to finish tasks. You probably know about how long it takes to finish tasks related to your job or business. If you don’t, then now is the time to come up with some estimates.
Knowing how long key activities take will greatly reduce the need to multitask because you’ll know in advance how much time to allot during the day.
You can prevent compressing too many tasks into too short a time frame when you know how long each task realistically takes.
- Put a “gone fishing” sign on your door. It’s no secret that your co-workers, clients, managers, and other individuals with whom you interact take up a lot of your time.
To allow yourself the time to get your tasks completed, put a “gone fishing” sign on your door and your phone(s) in “do not disturb” mode.
Block off time and communicate this to the people around you. Over time, people will come to respect the fact that you are busy, and will come back at a later time (or, leave a voice mail for you).
Being able to reclaim uninterrupted time will prevent the need to try and multitask.
- Map out tomorrow, today. Before you leave your desk for the day, map out tomorrow (and the following day or two, when possible).
As mentioned in the steps above, put the most important tasks first, say “no” to over-scheduling, and manage your email and people distractions accordingly. Your brain will thank you for it!
The urge to multitask arises when you’ve overcommitted yourself, agreeing to complete the equivalent of 12 hours of work, or more, in an eight-hour day.
The only way to get it done is to double or triple-up your task completion. However, the results are typically subpar.
A better approach is to increase your efficiency, reduce your distractions, and plan your day in advance.
How do you minimize your multitasking?
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