Are there a million and one things that you want to get done in a day? Do you wish you were more productive? Is multitasking is the way to GET S**T DONE? There are a few things I would like to share with you that might make you think differently about productivity.
Many of us think that productivity is output. How much we can get done in a day. This is partly true but why get loads done if the quality is rubbish. Inevitably this results in having to go back and redo work that was sub-par due to rushing it. Often people think that multi-tasking is the answer. I have recently been endlessly applying for jobs in and around Brisbane, some in administration. So many of the roles say “must have the ability to multitask” in the description. Sexist comments like “women are better at multitasking than men” made me think that multitasking was a skill that I should naturally be good at.
Until I started reading “The Organised Mind – Daniel Levitin” I thought multitasking was a skill I needed to develop if I wanted to work in a busy admin role or to run my own business. I now realise that multitasking is a myth and that in fact, it is impossible for your brain to carry out two things at once. And, if anything, multitasking is counterproductive.
“When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” – Daniel Levitin
To elaborate on this quote from Daniel. MRI scans show that when your brain tries to do more than one thing at once it is, in fact, switching focus between the two things rapidly. The frontal lobe of our brain is where the tasks are prioritised and simultaneously doing do tasks is not physically impossible.
Another thing I have read in several productivity books and articles is about the cost of being distracted from a task. It takes our brains around 20 – 30 minutes to refocus on a task. If you become distracted from something say a WhatsApp notification it can take 20 minutes for your brain to get back on track with the task you were performing. So if when attempting to multitask you are constantly being distracted from one task by another, you are never really able to get on track with either.
This means either work takes longer or gets completed to a lower standard.
How I Avoid Multitasking
In order to ensure you stay on track with a growing to-do without hindering the quality of output I do the following:
Focus on one thing at a time
This is where my beloved to-do list comes in. I create a list of all the tasks I need to do in a day and break it down into manageable chunks as to what can reasonably be completed in the morning and again in the afternoon. I then try to priorities the tasks in each section and work through them one by one. Sometimes I find I am not motivated to complete a particular task and look for an alternative quick win, but I am only ever completing one task at once.
Although not specifically related to multitasking I have mentioned distraction in this article, so I thought I would discuss ways to avoid it. Below I have listed the top 3 things that can cause distraction in a typical day at work for me.
Emails are constantly coming through throughout the day, particularly in my role as a web project manager in my previous job. Clients would be wanting changes to their website and I was expected to respond immediately. Management often sent emails throughout the day and expected immediate responses. They believed it was reasonable for us to see an email respond to it quickly and return to what we were doing.
I did work like this for a while in order to please. When I was doing many little admin jobs this was not a problem as the tasks I was doing did not require too much focus. However, if I was in the middle of a big menu reorganisation project or problem-solving a coding issue, a 2-second email response completely derailed my train of thought and progress with solving that particular issue.
The way to overcome this kind of distraction from emails is to have set times throughout the day where emails are checked. For me, the best system was to check my emails first thing in the morning. Often I would get into work early to do this.
I would check all the unread emails and any outstanding tasks to my to-do list. Then I work on these tasks throughout the morning, only opening my emails to notify clients or staff of completed tasks, not to read new ones. I would then check again after lunch and adjust my to-do list and again at the end of the day. With any outstanding tasks, I would create a new todo list for the next day. This made things a lot easier for me to manage when I was on larger projects or involved in more focus problem-solving tasks.
If you are working in a relaxed environment where your phone is not far out of reach, maybe its an essential part of your work equipment, handling distraction from notifications can be a challenge. There are various apps available to block social media or your desktop and phone.
I personally have not used any of these yet as if I really needed to focus I would turn my phone over or put it out of reach. But a quick google searches and you can find lots of tools like this to help control what notifications you see. If you have an iPhone another method is to put the phone on night mode to stop notifications showing up. Thee lengths you need to go to, to avoid this kind of distraction will come down to how reliant you are on social media and whether you can avoid the temptation to check your latest messages.
The biggest, most welcome and hardest distraction of all to avoid. If you have a team as great as the one I was working on it’s hard not to want to chat all day to them. Often when other people are between tasks and need a 5-minute break away from their computer they can try and distract you from your own work. I know, because I used to do it and have it done to me.
If you want to reduce distraction is to make your colleagues aware of your schedule. The more aware of your schedule, the more likely they are to save their 5-minute natter for when you are between jobs. Depending on the setup of your office you could either make an announcement or send around an email asking for 90 mins of focus uninterrupted time.
To Sum Up
So there you have it. Why multitasking is a myth with my suggestions for focus and eliminating distractions. I hope by sharing my methods for productivity you can find something that would be of use to us you. If you want to see me talking about this rather than just reading it you can check out the video linked below. I know people process information differently so a video might be of interest to some.
I hope you all have a fantastic and productive day!