“You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.” —Gary Keller
In our culture, multitasking is often celebrated—especially in a work environment. We think the more we can get done in the least amount of time, the better.
We all do it, too. Walking down the street texting, listening to something while we’re doing research online, writing an email while on a conference call. Unfortunately, the truth is that multitasking is far from the best way to knock items off your list.
In their article, BrainFact.org talks about how doing more that one task splits the brain. We all have an area toward the front of the brain that spans both the left and right side, called the prefrontal cortex that activates when we need to pay attention. It helps us focus our attention on a goal, and coordinates messages to other brain systems to accomplish our task. These two sides of the brain work together when focused on a single task, yet function independently when we attempt to multitask.
In short—you’ll feel like you’re working faster but—believe it or not—it actually slows you down.
But if multitasking’s out, what’s the best way to get things done fast while delivering your highest quality work?
Let’s take a look.
Be aware of your work habits
First up—pay attention to how you work. Notice what your patterns are, and be aware when you start drifting into multitasking. And also be aware that the more stress you feel about getting stuff done, the more you’ll move into multitasking. In fact, multitasking for many people becomes a type of panic mode. But there’s actually an easier and more efficient way to tackle your workload when you’re feeling under pressure.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you out.
Easy workflow checklist to avoid multitasking
- Identify what you want to get done during a given day (be realistic about it)
- Make a list of all the stuff that has to happen in order of priority
- Choose the high priority tasks without the distraction of lower priorities
- When you get something done, mark it off of your list, and move on to the next highest priority item
As you work this way, you’ll find that the lower priority stuff either moves up the ladder and becomes high priority, gets scheduled in as needed, or even moves off your list altogether. The key is to be present with what you’re doing at any given time—something that multitasking honestly isn’t super compatible with.
But even when your day doesn’t go as planned, be aware of your mindset about what you’re doing. Be intentional about how you move through your day. When we’re present—with whatever the task is—it gets done quickly with less feelings of overwhelm.
Personally, I notice that when I’m clear that what I’m doing is exactly what needs to get done, my productivity rises, and I enjoy what I’m doing much more. At the end of the day, I find I have the important stuff complete, rather than some of it complete and a lot left dangling.
Simply by focusing on what’s important upfront—one thing at a time—you’ll accomplish way more.
Give your full attention to what’s in front of you
Once you have the awareness of your workflow, and begin focusing on one thing at a time rather than multitasking, make the decision to give whatever you’re doing your full attention.
We tend to think about what we need to get done instead of what’s in front of us. But when we try to “get everything done” at once, our focus becomes fragmented. We forget things, accuracy plummets, and—rather ironically—everything takes longer.
Conversely, I get more pleasure from my work when I’m engaged. It becomes part of my flow, and that feels good.
When you focus your full attention exclusively on the task at hand, you’ll accomplish tasks surprisingly quickly. Multitasking just muddies the waters.
Work in 45 minute sprints
Of course, we all have our own work rhythm. But if you have a lot going on, working in 45 minute segments can be very supportive. This way you commit to focusing on one thing, such as answering your email, during that period. Once the 45 minutes is up, take a break, stretch, or get some fresh air before you move on to the next 45 minute segment.
That doesn’t mean that you have to switch to a different task after the break, either. In fact, you can sit right back down and keep pounding away at the same thing. It just means that every 45 minutes you’re taking five to rest up before the next round—just like a prize athlete.
The 45 minutes gives you a block of time during which to focus uninterrupted on a single thing. The break shifts your brain and renews your energy before coming back to the same task or moving on to a new one. Even if you have many tasks to do, splitting them up into 45 minute segments works far better than multitasking. This simple system will add an enormous boost to your productivity.
Enjoy your Work
There’s something about being present with the work in front of you—no matter what it is—that makes it more enjoyable. It brings more of you to the task at hand. Regardless of whether you’re returning calls, filling out expense reports, or working on a heartfelt project (like writing a blog post for your fellow businesswomen)—when you choose to enjoy what you’re doing in the moment, you’ll feel more relaxed. And as a result, your work becomes more precise, and the time spent becomes more productive.
We’d love to hear your comments about what work habits support you the most, so please take a moment to share!