The nature of the world today requires us to acquire skills that we perhaps did not need to master in years gone by. Technology allows us to do more tasks at the same time from any location. Because of this, we all think we are brilliant multitaskers. This is not the case. The hard truth is, most people are terrible at multitasking. Our brains are not wired to focus on more than one task at a time. Neuroscientists show that, for the most part, we simply cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. What we can do is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.
Switching from one task to another does not make you a multitasker. When you are doing this, even though you think you are paying attention to everything around you, you are not. Attempting to multitask and trying to focus on two projects at once usually means having to do a rework because you have omitted a critical element.
If this is you, we suggest you re-evaluate your working habits. Here are five tips to become more efficient and forget about multitasking altogether.
Make a list of tasks and don’t be afraid to say no
Take five minutes in the morning to look at what you need to accomplish for the day and prioritise your tasks. This tells you exactly what you need to accomplish and how much time you have available for smaller or unexpected tasks. It allows you to manage your time. When a colleague needs help, you can now confidently tell them, “I cannot complete that by the end of the day, but I can have it to you tomorrow by noon.” It helps you and your team to achieve deadlines.
Focus on one task at a time
If you have five projects you need to work on, block off time for each project and focus on doing one thing at a time. Use the list you created to prioritise what needs to be done first. Do not move on from one project to the next until your first project is complete.
Put down the technology/distractions
Technology is an asset that allows us to work from any and everywhere, but it can also be a distraction. When focusing on a project, close your email, turn off your phone (or put it on silent), put away the tablets, turn off notifications, close your door and put away anything that can distract you. You will be amazed at what a time-waster your technology can be.
Set up time to check your email
Email is one of many people’s problems when trying to focus. Most of us like to keep our inboxes low and to get back to people quickly (these days that seems to be expected!). Blocking out time to work on emails will help you. Try to deal with your inbox first thing when you start the work day, go back to it again after lunch and then finally – check it again right before the end of the day. Having time dedicated to email only will help you feel that you need not drop everything and answer right away.
This is hard. We all have tasks we need to complete and it feels as if there is never enough time. Try to concentrate on what you are working and engage when working with others. This means not sitting in a meeting checking emails, responding to WhatsApp’s or doing other tasks. Have you ever been on a conference call where you know the other person’s attention was elsewhere and they were not focusing on the discussion?
In the long run, taking the time to slow down can help you speed up your deadlines and allow you to give best the service. If you still think you are the exception to the rule and can multitask like a pro, think about writing an e-mail and talking on the phone at the same time. Those two things are nearly impossible to do at the same time; you cannot focus on one while doing the other. Even if you think you have mastered the art of multitasking, try to do this this tiny test. It might surprise you that your multitasking skills are not what you think they are. Why not learn the art of how to be a non-multitasker and focus on doing one thing well at a time.