Does anyone else think it’s absurd that the average person looks at their phone 150 times a day? Are we moving at such a pace every day that we have to multitask to feel accomplished? It seems to me that it’s really important that everyone in a visible leadership position should be taking time out to think, reflect and recharge.
Multitask is a misnomer – what we actually do is task-switch, and it’s no good.
Humans can only do one cognitive task at a time, so “multitasking” is just about the worst mechanism for being efficient. Studies show task-switching can cost a person as much as 40% of productive time.
I invite my Coaching clients to banish multitasking and improve the quality of their work, lower stress levels, and become more efficient. Below are 6 tips to help you cut back on multitasking:
- Use the OHIO principle: Instead of switching back and forth between projects. Only Handle It Once. This means if you start something, finish it before moving on to your next task. A great way to stick to the OHIO principle is to schedule blocks of time for you to check emails, respond to messages, check voice mails, or any other necessary tasks that pose distractions during the day. This way, instead of stopping everything to respond to an email every time you get a desktop notification (and incurring the extra time to find your place again in your work, try to remember what you were doing, etc.) you only check three times a day. Limit distractions: When working on projects or tasks that require your ability to focus, you can prevent distracting emails, texts, phone calls or websites that tempt you to task-switch. Turn off desktop notifications, put your phone on silent (and in a drawer, so it’s out of sight).
- Take time to pause: There are of course, lots of internal saboteurs, which prevent us from stopping for a while and doing nothing. People tell themselves they can’t afford the time to slow down; they’re paid to keep going all the time. However, the opposite is true. The work is too important not to slow down and give the mind a break. Recent research has shown that there is a part of the brain that gets really active in the moment before a really creative answer to a problem comes to us. Neurons that were not previously closely connected come together to create new pathways. Mental relaxation and allowing the mind to drift after thinking hard about an issue seems to set up the conditions that allow neurons to regroup and new ideas to come. So going for a walk or a swim, sleeping on it and social conversations may all be useful tools in our problem-solving toolkit and totally appropriate things to block out time for. Take five minutes to sit quietly at your desk with your eyes closed. Even short breaks like this can refocus your mind, lower your stress levels, and improve your concentration. Plus it can give your brain a welcome break during a hectic day.
- Learn to say No: Multitasking makes us stupid. I’ve heard, it lowers our IQ three times as much as smoking cannabis does. Two many inputs clog our brains. If you want to be successful and see a real result on the projects you are working on then stop taking on so many! The biggest problem with multitasking is that it can lower the quality of our work – we try to do two things or more things at once, and the result is that we do everything less well than if we focused properly on each task in turn.
- Choose your task: There will be times when something urgent comes up and you can’t avoid interruptions. But instead of trying to multitask through these, stop and make a note of where you left your current task. Record any thoughts you had about how to move forward. Then deal with the immediate problem, before going back to what you were doing. This way you’ll be able to handle both tasks well, and you’ll leave yourself with some clues to help you restart the original task more quickly.
- Ask yourself good questions: When you feel a sense of overwhelm, ask yourself some key questions. Such as; Is this the best use of my time? When does this need to be completed? Does this task leverage my strengths? Who could I ask for support? Coaching yourself to plan your work will be a gift you will learn to treasure.
- Give permission: When you find yourself doing too many things at once, give yourself permission to stop. Recharge and lead by example, so that others around you have the permission to do so too.
Controlling your tendency to multitask could have surprising benefits. You will probably find that you’ll get more done, feel less stress, and have more energy at the end of the day.
Maintain momentum and make it a great day!