Multitasking is a problem. It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.
Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.
This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.
Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.
Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments. Our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home. All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.
What can we do about it? We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for our attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.
Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done within the time you have in each working day:
1. Get enough rest
When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.
This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.
When you are well-rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus on the work that is important.
2. Plan your day
When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.
When you have a plan for the day, you arrive at work with your brain knowing exactly what it is you want to accomplish. It will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.
Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.
3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing
I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.
I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.
Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.
4. When at your desk, do work
We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.
Do your online shopping from another place – your home or from your phone when you are having a break – and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus on your work and not other distractions.
5. Learn to say no
Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.
Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.
By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.
6. Turn off notifications on your computer
For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.
Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.
7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work
Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.
You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other unimportant tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.
Only by focusing will you be more productive
Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.
Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.
Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.