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Feel like you’re caught in a never-ending juggling act? Unless you’re a circus performer, you don’t need to keep all those balls in the air at one time. It’s time to focus in and get things done.
How many times do you check your phone every day? How about your email? Reading that alone probably made you want to glance at your cell.
Don’t worry. You’re not alone.
Recent studies show that the average person checks their cell phone 150 times per day while 60 percent of the population checks their email more than 4 times per day.
We are addicted to multitasking, and technology is the ultimate multitasking enabler.
We talk on the phone while we cook dinner. We text while we talk. We keep checking emails during work meetings. With increasing access to the world around us, we feel a growing responsibility to do more—often at the same time. But quantity isn’t quality, and doing too many things at once is affecting our work.
What Is Multitasking?
Multitasking is the practice of doing more than one thing simultaneously. Because you are technically completing more tasks at the same time, is often framed as a skill. But is it really a helpful skill?
Modern research says no. No matter how effective or efficient multitasking may seem, staying focused on one task at a time is better than switching from one task to another. Research shows multitasking reduces our productivity by as much as 40%.
Now that you know what multitasking is and how it affects your work, it’s important that you learn how to stop multitasking and start prioritizing.
How to Stop Multitasking in 3 Simple Steps
There are ways to break the habit of multitasking, and you're going to need to know them if you want to maximize your potential. Here's how you can stop multitasking, start prioritizing, and really get things done.
1) Minimize Mindless Distractions
Interruptions are the productive worker’s kryptonite. This is especially true when completing tasks that require your brain’s full computing power—creating reports, coding, even filling out a form.
With no lack of interruptions in the modern workplace, mastering time management is an essential skill.
Some common productivity killers can include phone alerts, social media notifications, or co-workers making conversation. While it might seem harmless to check a message or answer your desk mate’s question, it can set off a chain of events that makes it hard to focus on the task at hand—or forget about it entirely.
Let’s look at a common scenario:
You’ve been tasked with creating a presentation on sales projections for a meeting with your boss later today. You’ve spent the last 10 minutes brainstorming and collecting your thoughts. You’re working through how you’re going to tackle this meeting. You move to open PowerPoint to begin writing out your ideas.
And then your phone buzzes.
It’s a text message from your friend reminding you that their birthday dinner is on Friday.
It’s a small distraction—with a steep price. Now you’re thinking about what present you should get your friend. You’re wondering if your ex is invited. It will take you at least 25 minutes to refocus on your original task.
This is not taking into account the length of time you took to address the distraction. Perhaps you sent a few questions about the reservation time and menu. Maybe you started asking about the guest list and complaining because somebody invited Jessica and she always orders the most expensive dish on the menu and then tries to split the bill. Before you know it, it’s been a half hour and you haven’t even opened PowerPoint.
A few “small” distractions like this per day can add up and increase the time it takes to complete even the simplest of tasks.
So, how do you fix this? If you want to work more efficiently, mute all messages while you’re working. When your phone and computer aren’t constantly tempting you with notifications, you’ll get more done and leave your workday with a higher sense of accomplishment.
Note: It might not always be possible to avoid interruptions. It’s up to you to prioritize which diversions are worth it and which can be put off or neglected entirely.
2) Create short deadlines for yourself
We love short-term gratification. The sooner we can get what we want, the better.
This is why we tend to put off tasks that don’t need to be done right away. This leaves gaps for procrastination to weasels its way into our days. This phenomenon is so popular that researchers believe the rate of procrastination in humans has quadrupled in the past 30 years.
But wait—what does procrastination have to do with multitasking?
When you have too much time to get something done, it’s a lot easier to start task switching and using other tasks as tools for procrastination.
The solution? Set shorter deadlines for yourself.
Instead of giving yourself a whole hour to create a presentation, halve it. Give yourself thirty minutes. When you have less time to finish something than what you’re used to, you value each minute of your time and are less likely to procrastinate.
If you want this use this technique, you need to cover two things:
Make sure the deadline you’re setting is actually possible to achieve.
Don’t set a deadline that’s too short. If you give yourself 10 minutes to do something that normally takes three hours, you’re going to give up before you even start. If this feels difficult, you can always break your big goal up into smaller tasks. It's a lot easier to set a realistic deadline when you have a better idea of how long each step will take.
Strictly follow your deadline.
The second you start to slack on your self-set deadlines is the second this tactic runs away from you. You need to be firm with yourself. If you don’t really make yourself believe you have less time than normal to complete a task, this technique won’t work.
3) Work in intervals
It’s no secret that our attention spans aren’t limitless. At some point or the other, you’ll need to take a breather. Breaks help recharge your brain and keep you productive.
The question is: how long can people work at optimal mental performance?
Several studies have concluded that 52 minutes is that ‘magic’ number of minutes a person can work before they need a break. If that seems long to you, don’t sweat it. This isn’t an exact science and everybody is unique. Many experts also suggest working in intervals of 18 to 25 minutes with short breaks in between.
This style of work is effective because it instills that same sense of urgency you’d get with a shortened deadline. When you know you’re working towards a break, you work harder. You’ll remain more focused on your task instead of hopping from thing to thing.
It’s up to you to experiment and discover how long you can work while staying focused on the task at hand.
Stop Multitasking and Start Working Smarter Today
Multitasking isn’t always a bad thing. If you’re the type of person who likes to talk on the phone while you clean the house, go for it. It’s not going to hurt you to do the laundry and catch up with your mom at the same time.
But you need to at least know how to stop multitasking. When you're working, one of the best ways to maximize your productivity is to nix the distractions and focus on one thing at a time. So, remember to follow these three steps. You’ll be surprised as to how much more you actually get done without sacrificing on quality.