Want to get more done? Stop multitasking

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December 22, 2016
6
min read

Who isn't looking for ways to get more done? Anyone? ... I didn't think so.I don’t really believe in multitasking. Probably because I can’t do it. Sure you can drive and drink a coffee at the same time. But sometimes, while involved in a rigorous task like scratching my nose, I’ll forget to breathe. And tragically, for those like me with a sub-pentium head, multitasking seems like an essential skill to have in this fast-paced modern world.

The average day in the life of your average multitasker

As I write this, I have Google Docs open in one window, while another shows a list of the cognitive costs of multitasking I’ve been reading in preparation for this article. And that’s just one of my two monitors. The other has all the other little office essentials; Spotify, Asana, Slack, Evernote and Email. My phone is on my desk next to me, threatening to buzz and flash and beep the moment one of my innumerable apps sends me a notification. Piles of crap fill my desk - thick layers of sedimentary files and documents dating from five minutes ago to the Cretaceous period - that all, all at once, require my attention. Brightly coloured sticky notes on the walls around me are vying for me like birds of paradise in heat. Everything needs to be done - and it needs to be done NOW.These days it seems, if you can’t handle three hundred things at once you’re an endangered species. Well, you’ll be happy to know that the exact opposite is true. If you want to get more done in your day, you need to stop multitasking, and start tackling your workload one bite at a time.In reality - we’re not designed to multitask. So, like a man trying to eat soup with a fork, we don’t actually ever manage to do it. Rather, we pretend to do it, until eventually, everything that needs to be done is stacked up in vertiginous piles and you start chewing your fingernails down to the second knuckle.Multitasking kills productivity, diminishes mental performance and stresses you out. Even if you do manage to deliver any work, it’s not going to be your best. Wouldn’t it be nice to deliver better work, clean off your desk and put your feet up guilt-free at the end of the day?It’s not impossible. Here are a few techniques.

Pomodoro technique

The ‘Pomodoro technique’ is one of my personal favourites. It’s designed exclusively to provide you with sufficient breaks to eliminate burnout, and keep your focus on the task at hand. Here’s how it works:

  1. Remove all distractions and set a timer for 25 minutes. Now get down to work. Don’t get up from your desk, look at Facebook or stop working. You need to fully immerse yourself in one task until the timer runs out.
  2. Once the 25 minutes is up - no matter what - take a short five minute break. This is the perfect time to grab a cuppa, check your phone or scroll through social media.
  3. Once your break is over - set the timer for another 25 minutes and repeat the process.

Because you have set time frames for both work and rest, you’ll find you can easily wave off any distractions safe in the knowledge you’ll have time for them in a minute. Remember - the Pomodoro technique works best when you’re working on a single project - not three. Jumping back and forth between tasks will only serve to tire you out, and hinder your ability to concentrate.If you want to try out the Pomodoro technique, I recommend purchasing an egg timer, or installing one of the many software tools available. Here’s a good free one for both iOS and Windows.

Mindfulness training

Mindfulness has taken the world by storm. Basically, it’s just meditation. But ‘meditation’ had connotations of bare feet and clothes made out of cheesecloth. So Smiling Mind gave it a re-brand. Let me tell you, this stuff can really help calm your frayed nerves and put you back on the right path. Mindfulness is about being present in everything you do. That means not sneakily checking your emails in a meeting, and enjoying the moment.Multitasking is often just a symptom of stress. The higher the workload, the more you’ll anxiously pace back and forth between tasks. As we all know, this isn’t conducive with getting shit done. The Smiling Mind app can really help ground you and improve focus - and it’s based on science and psychology, not Patchouli oil. Plus, it’s a free initiative.Take it from me, the self-appointed Supreme Dictator of cynicism, if you want to improve your mental health and focus, download the app today and try it out. What have you got to lose?

Eliminate (or suppress) interruptions

The Pomodoro technique serves to help with this by giving you clear direction of what tasks you’ll be working on for a set timeframe - but there's certainly more you can do to eliminate interruption.If you work in a loud office space - perhaps there’s a lot of sales calls going on close by - it can be hard to remain focused on the task at hand. If there’s no quiet space for you to work, try listening to music or white noise like Rainy Mood.Clearing off your desk is another great idea. A cluttered desk is a chronic multi-tasker’s nirvana. ‘Just look at all these random little things to pick up and fret about instead of doing any work’. It’s a great idea to, if you have the drawer space, clean your desk of everything but the task you intend to work on.

Set aside the technology

This might sound a bit rich coming from a software company, but just because technology has enabled us to do a hundred things at once it in no way means we should.When you’re staring down the barrel of a large project - set aside the technology. Obviously that means no TV, Playstation or Tamagotchis - but what about the other ‘essentials’ we’re so hesitant to pry ourselves away from?As a real estate agent, it’s not really viable to turn your phone off. But this doesn’t mean you can’t silence push notifications from other non-vital apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. There’s a time and a place to check these - and it’s not right now.And do you need so many windows open on your computer? If they’re not essential - close them. You can always re-open them later.Make a conscious effort to be spartan in your use of technology when you’re trying to concentrate.

Finish your last task before you start a new one

Sometimes, you don’t have the luxury of prioritising your own tasks. A lead might come in that needs attention right away, for instance. But when you are able to dictate what you’re working on and when, make sure you always finish the first task before moving onto the second.This builds something called ‘productivity momentum’ - the basic premise of which is that actually completing a task feels good, ergo, building drive to complete more. Plus, if you’re finishing tasks before moving on, you won’t end up with 38 jobs started and nothing actually done - probably the leading cause of useless ‘multi-tasking’.

In conclusion

Multitasking is a myth, and in this era of constant distraction, it can be hard not to fall for it’s siren song.Don’t be dashed upon the rocks.If you’re struggling to get your work done, feeling stressed out, or feel like your workload is infinite - we strongly recommend taking a deep breath and implementing some of the above.

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