We all do it: Texting while walking, sending emails during meetings, chatting on the phone while cooking dinner. In today’s society, doing just one thing at a time seems downright luxurious, even wasteful.
But chances are, you’re not doing yourself (or your boss, or your friends and family) any favors by multitasking your way through the day. Research shows that it’s not nearly as efficient as we like to believe, and can even be harmful to our health. Here are 12 reasons why you should stop everything you’re doing—well, all but one thing—and rethink the way you work, socialize, and live your life.
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You’re not really multitasking
What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says.
“It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum.” Moving back and forth between several tasks actually wastes productivity, he says, because your attention is expended on the act of switching gears—plus, you never get fully “in the zone” for either activity.
But How Do We Stay Focused And Avoid Multi-Tasking?
Ways to overcome multi-tasking are numerous and your success will vary depending on different factors: the type of work you do, your working environment, how your days are structured, and what’s going on around you. These are some things that I’ve found help me and my clients to stay focused on one job at a time.
1) Empty Your Head: One of the biggest factors in continuing to multi-task is whether my brain is full of stuff. If I’m thinking about all the things I have going on and have to do then I tend to flit between jobs in an attempt to ensure I don’t forget anything. So I find that emptying my head is a really useful technique to keep me focussed and on track.
How do I do this? Morning Writing is one of the keys. First thing in the morning (or as near as possible to it) grab a notebook and just write. It doesn’t have to make sense or be legible, just write for 3 sides of A4 (yes, that’s 6 pages in a smaller A5 notebook). It sounds like a lot but trust me on this, when you get practised it will only take about 20 minutes and is so worthwhile. You’ll find more about it here in my article on journalling.
2) Fuel Yourself Properly: Have a good breakfast to ensure you are fuelled and ready to go. Using your brain takes energy and as we get drained it becomes more easy to get distracted. Grab a cup of coffee or a small square of dark chocolate before you embark on a period of focus. The more alert you are the more likely you are to focus, and not get distracted.
3) Clear your work area: Physical clutter gets in the way and causes a subconscious distraction.
What If You’re Easily Distracted?
4) Identify your stressor and distractors: Take some time to think about what annoys and distracts you and work out a way to eliminate them. These could include going offline for a period of time, turning off notifications, or even using a different computer to do certain work so you can’t see all your social media or games.
5) If you know you’re going to get distracted, do it in a controlled way: Schedule a time of day to go online, check your emails, do the social media or scrolling thing. Maybe think of it as a reward for being focussed for an hour or more.
6) Prioritise: If you’ve done some morning writing this process should have already begun. Ensure that you have a list – not in your head – of all the things outstanding that need to be done. Identify between 1 and 3 things that absolutely need to be done today over everything else. Then choose one and decide how long you want to dedicate to it. Set yourself a deadline and start work on it.
7) Create Some Space: Before you begin, take two minutes to breathe. Sit at your desk and focus on your body, your connection with the chair, your feet with the floor and count your breath. Bring your awareness to yourself and to the centre of your being. After a couple of minutes of mindful breathing, open your eyes and start your work.
Give Yourself A Break!
8) Work in blocks: Set a timer for an hour and work on your number one priority. After an hour, have a break and stretch your legs. Breathe and grab some water and maybe a cuppa. Have a break for at least 10 minute. Set a timer for another hour and continue with the task, or start the one that is the next priority.
(I have the ‘silent’ and ‘do not disturb’ profile on my phone set up so that everything is silent except my alarms. This allows me to use my phone for times but not hear if anything else is happening.)
9) Little & Often: Breaking down larger tasks into smaller chunks will help you whizz through a todo list and tick things off. This will give you a lovely sense of achievement and a yummy hit of dopamine at the same time! (Hopefully, this will replace the dopamine hit you would ordinarily get from multi-tasking.) This helps to keep you motivated and on track. Sometimes I will actually go through all my easy quick actions for the first hour of the day just to get them out of the way and feel good before starting on the bigger stuff. I know this goes against the ‘Eat That Frog’ philosophy but some days I just need to feel I am achieving something quickly to get me going.
10) Chew gum: A weird one but there are some studies suggesting that chewing gum can increase your alertness. Although I often use peppermint essential oil (or Doterra’s ‘motivate’ blend which contains peppermint oil) in my office to keep me focussed so I am wondering if it’s the menthol in the gum that helps. Peppermint definitely keeps me awake, alert and motivated so why not give it a go?
What are your top tips to stay focused one task?
How do you avoid multi-tasking?
What’s your top priority today?
Are you going to give one or more of these a go?
Most people know they can be super-productive when they focus, they just need some tools and tips to help them to do that.
I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback on what works for you
Getty ImagesAre you reading this while thumbing through text messages, streaming a TV show online, or scribbling a note to your child's teacher? (Or maybe doing all three?) Don't congratulate yourself.
Even though most people think an amped-up, gadget-dependent lifestyle makes them more nimble, focused, and efficient, that may not be the case. In fact, many researchers believe the human brain can't really perform two or more tasks simultaneously, as the word multitask implies.
Rather, they say, the mind toggles between tasks. And while mindless activities like walking and chewing gum aren't a problem, the brain doesn't fare well when people double up on complex tasks, such as driving and talking on a cell phone.
"Something's got to give," says David E. Meyer, PhD, director of the Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. "Either your cell phone conversation will suffer or your driving will suffer."
And it's not just behind the wheel. There's mounting evidence that multitasking can slow you down no matter what you're doing.
In a study published a decade ago, Meyer and his colleagues found that, contrary to popular belief, people are less efficient—not more—when they multitask. That's because it takes more time to complete one of the tasks, especially as they become more complex, versus focusing on a single task.
How multitasking affects memory and attention
Imagine this: You get off the couch to get a snack from the refrigerator, you're interrupted by a phone call, and arrive in the kitchen with no clue why you're there.
That common scenario illustrates how even the simplest forms of multitasking can lead to glitches in the moment-to-moment processing of information known as working memory, says Adam Gazzaley, MD, an associate professor of neurology, physiology, and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.
These types of distractions are becoming more and more a part of daily life, thanks to computers and smartphones, and research suggests they could be taking a toll on our attention.
In a 2009 study, researchers at Stanford University asked students to take an online questionnaire about their media use. From that group, the researchers identified heavy and light "media multitaskers" and compared their performance on three cognitive tests. Their paper found that heavy media multitaskers had more trouble filtering out irrelevant information from their environment. In others words, they were more prone to distraction than their low-use counterparts. The heavy users were also less able to focus and had more difficulty switching tasks.
It's not clear whether multitasking causes these problems, or if preexisting personal differences make certain individuals more prone to distractions posed by the "changing media environment," the authors note.
Next Page: Multitasking may cause more problems for older people [ pagebreak ]Multitasking can be problematic at any age, but it may be more likely to interfere with our working memory as we get older. In a pair of recent studies, Dr. Gazzaley and his colleagues gave a test to groups of young and old adults in which they were shown an image and asked to recall it about 15 seconds later, after being interrupted with another cognitive task.
"Our finding was that older adults are not switching back as easily, and that's why (the interruption) is having a greater impact on their working memory, on holding information in mind for short periods of time," Dr. Gazzaley says.
Are teens better multitaskers?
Of course, kids who grew up instant messaging friends while downloading music and catching the latest viral video on YouTube are more adept at switching tasks than older folks, right? Maybe not.
The jury is still out on whether teens are truly masters of multitasking, says Jay Giedd, MD, chief of the brain imaging unit in the National Institute of Mental Health's Child Psychiatry Branch, in Bethesda, Md. Teens certainly get plenty of practice multitasking, and while they may not pay as high a "tax" for it as adults, they still cannot do multiple tasks at once as well as one at a time, Dr. Giedd says.
Teens and tweens (8- to 12-year-olds), on average, spend more than 7.5 hours a day with various forms of media, but they manage to squeeze 10 hours and 45 minutes of media exposure into that time because they use two or more forms of media concurrently, according to a report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Dr. Giedd points out that it is especially contentious whether younger teens might be more handy multitaskers than older teens, like the college-age students who had problems switching tasks in the 2009 study of media multitaskers.
Dr. Giedd's research team has performed more than 7,000 MRIs on nearly 3,000 kids over the past two decades to better understand brain development in children and adolescents. So far, so good. "The kids in our study that do a lot of multitasking, they're doing quite well in terms of they're getting good grades, they're creative, they're energetic," he says.
But they may be more stressed. While the link isn't clear, Dr. Giedd notes that kids are sleeping less and that sleep deprivation is a stressor. "It's very tempting to stay up later and to do more stuff," he says, adding that because multitasking is inherently inefficient, kids may have to stay up later just to get all that stuff done.
"By a chain of pretty solid reasoning, one can conclude that multitasking intensely on a regular basis day after day where you really care about your performance and are on the edge of failing because of the challenges to the limits of your information processing will eventually lead to chronic stress," Meyer says.
I have to say, I am so worried about the future of our relationships.
We all know the negative effects technology has on our social skills, but it’s become much more apparent in our romantic relationships. It’s not just our children who are suffering from lack of social skills. Adults, who “should know better” are becoming part of a multitasking mob of people too often staring at our phones or tablets.
In my work as a Couple’s Counselor at The Couple Zone, I have heard too many stories about the negative impact Facebook, Instagram, and other applications are having on committed relationships. At least weekly couples enter my office devastated that a past relationship has been reunited, feeling unprioritized as partners with intense feelings of insignificance or loneliness due to being overlooked by a Smartphone.
Let’s face it, less time together, less meaningful conversations, increased alone time from each other and constantly being distracted by technology is ruining our relationships.
How do we go forward to keep our spouses a priority, but continue our advanced technology skills and not miss out on the latest twitter or Facebook post?
Attuning to your partner, even if once per day, can increase your bond and leave you partners feeling more heard and fulfilled.
Happier couples attune to each other frequently and report increased closeness. Attuning to your partner means acknowledging their experience in a non-judgmental way where they feel understood. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but you can make it apparent that you understand their perspective. You are saying: “You are a priority. You are important. You can feel heard with me.”
Here are some simple ways to increase your attunement to your spouse, whether they are telling you a simple story about how their day went or if you are discussing a major issue impacting your relationship.
* Put the phone away (not just down). And turn it off!
* Be Present: Focus only on spouse and no multitasking. Give them your full attention.
* Full Eye contact- eyes communicate more than words 🙂
* Responding to their questions or needs.
* Track conversations with “Uh-huh”, or “I see”- to let them know you are following them
* Affectionate touch to support, show love, encouragement
* Noticing changes within them, their efforts-be observant – shows they are a priority
* Emotional responses – use emotional responses to allow them to be emotional and create a closer bond together.
Trying some or all of these ways to attune to your partner can help create a quick moment of connection in our busy world. It’s a way of seriously acknowledging them, but not having to constantly be focused on them. It’s a way to condense your moments together to positively impact your relationship without having to let go of social media. After all, a new video just went viral and you are missing it right now!
For many entrepreneurs and small business
owners/employees, it may feel like all you’re doing is multitasking and working on many different projects all at once. With the business world at our fingertips every second through our phones and tablets, it can be easy to get caught up in the world of trying to do too many things at one time. One of the strengths that used to be seen frequently on a resume was the ‘ability to multitask’ but has since shifted to really be the ‘ability to prioritize’ and complete tasks in a timely, organized fashion. Taking on too many things at once can begin to affect the brain, so it’s important to step back and stay organized.
Author of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life and executive wellness coach Margaret Moore weighs in on the conversation and shares some of the mistakes that can happen when entrepreneurs take on too many things concurrently and some rules to follow to avoid overload.
Handle your emotional frenzy
Moore notes that it is important to be in control of your emotions. If you’re feeling stressed out, you should rest and recharge so that you can be ready to take on even more challenging projects and tasks. Ways to do this can range from exercising your body to mindful practice and just sitting down without your phone or TV on and experiencing a calm and quiet atmosphere.
Remember to think about the task/goal at hand and stay connected to it by giving it your full attention. If you’re easily distracted by your phone or email, turn them off to help stay focused. Try to complete one task and a time and focus your mind on only that task at hand.
Inevitably, a distraction will come along—be ready to ‘hit the brakes’ and re-evaluate your attention. If this new task takes precedence over the original task at hand, you may need to shift gears and re-focus attention. If it’s not an urgent matter, set it aside and continue to work on the immediate task at hand.
Be ready to shift gears
In order to achieve an organized mind and foster creativity, it is helpful to be able to have not only a functional memory, but the ability to shift gears and be mentally flexible. It’s not always beneficial to focus your mind on a singular, linear path—being able to allow your mind to leap (or even seek out distractions) can be helpful for generating new ideas.
If you have any tips for staying organized or how to avoid overloading yourself by multitasking, please share your story/tips with us.
To read more about the various downfalls of multitasking (and how to stay productive), check out Margaret Moore’s book Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life (2011) or visit the original blog post:
Do you know how to stay connected in a time of social distancing?
After weeks of social distancing, even the most introverted among us misses engaging with other people. Everything—or so it seems—is cancelled. From major life events like weddings and graduations to simple everyday pleasures like a trip to the gym and getting a haircut: CANCELLED.
But do you know what isn’t cancelled? Our biologically hardwired need to connect with other people. Staying connected is essential business. The science of social connection reveals that our social needs are not a nicety that we can skip like a tasty latte. Connecting with people is vital for our well-being and isolation is unbelievably bad for us. To avoid the shockingly harmful effects of disconnection on everything from our health and stress levels to performance, we have to treat our connectedness as a top priority.
Do you know how to stay connected in this time of social distancing?
Social Distancing v. Distant Socializing. We have all spent time thinking about how to separate ourselves and stay safe (rightfully so), but how much mental energy have we devoted to staying in touch? Perhaps we need to re-frame the issue to focus on how we are distantly socializing (instead of just distancing).
Here are 5 practical ways to keep being social:
- Make a Phone Call. Hearing a familiar voice is reassuring in times of uncertainty, and you can pick up on so many verbal cues when listening to someone speak as opposed to reading text jargon. A tip for those of you who haven’t used the call feature recently: smile when you say hello! The other person cannot see your smile, but they can hear it. Also, be sure to speak loudly and clearly. We all have limited attention that gets easily derailed when it takes effort to hear people speak.
- Use a Video Platform. Seeing and hearing a family member or friend can strengthen emotional bonds. Be creative! Set up a game night, a coffee break, a happy hour, or a virtual party. Be present, avoid multitasking, make introductions as needed, and make sure everyone has a chance to engage. Connection made easy!
- Don’t Skip the Small Talk. Especially at work, don’t forget that the people on the other end of the line are human! Create connection by asking how they are doing and then listen. Getting to know our colleagues as humans helps our brains classify them as “in-group,” which helps us work better together (we process information from them more richly and make fewer cognitive errors).
- Daily or Weekly Check-Ins. Who needs to hear from you and who do you need to hear from? The days seem to melt into weeks right now. Set a specific time every day or week to connect with people that can keep you on track in this crazy season. Commit to sharing self-care practices with a friend or swapping funny stories with your grandma. These shared goals and experiences bond us far more than we realize.
- Mail a Handwritten Note. Go old school! The written word is powerful. Handwritten notes are typically read again and again. Receiving a note of encouragement always has a positive impact, but it could be a lifeline to someone right now. Don’t worry about your penmanship! It is your thoughts that matter, not your writing.
Distant socializing doesn’t just happen. We have to be intentional about our connectedness. Set a time, invite others, and show up! How do you want to be remembered? ™
We see you, over there dealing with a work call and writing a report at the same time. Or running a meeting while replying to your text messages.
If anyone asks you about this, you will proudly announce that you’re “multitasking,” and the response may be admiration.
With so many tasks on our plate every day, knocking out two or three of them at the same time certainly appears efficient, if you can manage it.
But is multitasking all it’s cracked up to be?
Turns out it isn’t. Here are the reasons why, and what you can do instead.
The Problem With Multitasking
It makes you feel and look efficient, but how much is really getting accomplished when you multitask?
The answer is…not much. Here’s why.
For one thing, it makes you feel stressed and anxious. By the end of the day, you feel like you’ve been working extremely hard, yet you haven’t been able to successfully cross out any task from your to-do list. And adding the same item to tomorrow’s to-do list becomes stressful to say the least.
The research shows that we have only a finite amount of willpower available to us to take on tasks everyday. So if you have used all your energy on navigating between various tasks, there’s none left over to actually finish anything.
For proof of this, look no further than the clean sock experiment.
The Clean Sock Experiment
Back in the 70s, researchers looked at the habits of students, assuming that there would be a positive correlation between students that had clean socks and those that were able to turn in a homework assignment on time. To the shock of the researchers, they found exactly the opposite, prompting a psychologist to jokingly remark, “Apparently, the students could either get their homework done or change their socks every day but not both.”
And that’s why focusing on finishing a task before picking up another one makes sense. One of the best strategies for focusing on tasks is known as batching.
What Is Batching?
Batching is a time management strategy that eliminates the massive productivity suck of multitasking.
Instead of trying (and failing) to do everything at once, batching is a process in which you group similar items on your to-do list together and block out a time to accomplish them all at once.
As an example, let’s say you have ten items on your list to pick up from the grocery store. You wouldn’t drive to the store to get one of them, come home and start vacuuming, then leave to go get the next item on your list, until you’ve driven to the grocery store ten separate times. This is a huge waste of time. Instead, you would go to the grocery store, purchase all ten items at once, and THEN do the vacuuming.
This is the principle behind batching.
5 Tips to Start Batching Your Work
Interested in trying batching instead of multitasking? Next time you’re faced with a long to-do list, try these tips to break your bad habits of multitasking.
1. Write down your tasks
Batching will only work for you if you can make it a habit to write a list of the goals you want to accomplish. This can be on a daily or weekly basis, but it is best if you make it a habit at the end or the beginning of the day/week to write them down.
The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down
– Adam Savage, Mythbusters
2. Group similar tasks or break large tasks into sub-tasks
This is where a batch is born. Whatever gets grouped together in this stage should be tackled in the same block of time. So any task that will require more time than you can reasonably focus on it might be a good candidate to be broken into segments or sub-tasks.
The key to a clear to do list is to segment it so it can be broken down easier.
– Mike Vardy, The Productivityist
One of the easiest ways to sort your tasks by priorities is to use a simple scoring system. And no, you don’t need to research that right now. It’s as simple as assigning a number to represent the importance of completing this task. I like to use small numbers such as 1-5
When you create a long to-do list, many times your top priorities are nested within a longer list of items that are far less important.
– Tim Ferriss
4. Block time on your calendar
Start with scheduling a time to complete the most time-consuming item on your list. Decide on a realistic amount of time to complete the task, and block it out so you won’t have any distractions.
An easy batch to start with is emails. Instead of responding to emails throughout the day, block out a time just to deal with email, and nothing else.
Email isn’t going away. The key to going into your email program with missions in mind is to make sure you set up a structure that allows you to stay focused on those missions.
– Mike Vardy
Or a more modern batch would be for scheduling your Zoom calls. Think of setting up “office hours” where you are available to take calls during specific times of the day or week.
Prox offers an easy way to add office hours that sync with your Google, Apple, or Outlook calendar. Then when you send people your Prox profile link, they can only book time to meet with you during your set office hours.
Once you’ve started batching instead of multitasking, you’ll feel the immense satisfaction of watching your to-do list dwindle, along with your stress.
Are you stressed? Discover if multitasking could be the cause.
With today’s hectic pace, multitasking is a way of life for many of us. Although it may seem logical to assume that taking care of several tasks at once will make us more productive, researchers are discovering that there can be some significant downsides to living our lives this way.
Some thrive—most don’t
For some people, alternating between tasks can be an effective way to stay fresh and keep the mind active. However, we’re not all wired to work that way.
“Some people thrive on multitasking, but most people I’ve spoken with feel overwhelmed with all the demands of today,” says Oren Amitay, a Toronto-based registered psychologist and university lecturer. “Multitasking is a symptom of people’s need for constant stimulation. It’s become part of our norm.”
Studies show that trying to cram more productivity into our overscheduled days isn’t necessarily healthy.
Multitasking can create stress and sap our productivity, finds a Stanford University study. Not only that, but research from the University of Sussex in England found it may be associated with lower grey matter density in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to emotional control and decision-making.
“We can get so overwhelmed that we’re immobilized in the face of all these things that we have to do,” says Jessie Langlois, a Vancouver-based registered clinical counsellor.
When multitasking involves a screen or screens—for instance, checking email, scrolling through Facebook, texting, or watching TV before bed—it can also disrupt our sleep and hinder real-world social connections.
“When you get so wired and so connected to your devices, not only are you being disconnected from your own internal states, but you’re also being disconnected socially,” Amitay says.
Some multitasking may be unavoidable—after all, countless job descriptions cite it as an important skill—but there are ways to multitask while minimizing the unhealthy consequences. Read on for expert tips.
Set realistic expectations
“Multitasking can be done effectively, but you have to make sure you’re allowing yourself enough time to complete a task instead of just jumping all over the place,” says Tamara Lechner, a happiness expert and meditation instructor based in Victoria, BC.
Overestimating our ability to multitask could have much more dire consequences beyond creating stress. We know that texting while driving is unsafe—and illegal in all provinces—but a recent survey by the Canadian Automobile Association found that nearly a quarter of Canadians admitted to reading or sending a text message while driving.
“It’s important to recognize when you’re driving that vigilance is the priority,” Langlois says. “Emails [and] can wait.” While you’re waiting in line at the grocery store might be a more appropriate time to multitask by answering a text or email, she adds.
Stop glorifying busyness
Some of the pressure to multitask comes from outside forces and some of it is self-inflicted, but it’s important to distinguish between productive busyness and busyness for its own sake. “It can be easy to adopt a mentality of just being busy,” Langois says, “where it doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you’re busy.”
While it’s true that failing to meet deadlines at work could cost you your job, skipping the school bake sale or letting laundry pile up for an extra day isn’t a make-or-break scenario. Challenge the notion that you should be all things to all people and focus on the essentials.
Even workplace busyness could be dialed down to a more manageable, sustainable level. “You always have resources to set limits,” Langois says. “Whether it’s co-workers or managers in a job situation or friends or family at home, people are willing to help.”
Find other sources of satisfaction
Why does technology seem so addictive? “ [When] checking emails or news updates, there’s a dopamine surge,” Amitay says. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that communicates pleasure to the brain, so when we get a Facebook “like” or an email, or we reach a new level in a game, it actually does bring us a small dose of happiness. (In fact, many video games and email inboxes may be intentionally designed to elicit that reaction on a subconscious level.)
But if you’re constantly checking in online and finding it hard to concentrate on other things, Lechner says you can gradually retrain your brain to get satisfaction in ways other than through emails or “likes.” “Smiling at people creates the same chemical release,” she says.
Taking a break from technology, for example, by going camping where there’s no reception, can help curb that impulse to be constantly connected. “Removing yourself from that stimulation, after a certain time, you’re not going to check emails or have mobile devices,” Amitay says, “but you may have withdrawal symptoms.”
While different personalities process stress and manage multitasking differently, Lechner says, “you have to decide if it’s a useful habit or if it’s preventing you from living your life.”
There are very few jobs that don’t require multitasking skills of some sort or another. Employees rarely have the luxury of focusing on one task at a time in today's work world.
Most jobs require employees to balance competing demands for their time and energy, and employers expect you to be able to handle multiple priorities. Even if you don't think you do much of it, you are most likely multitasking much of the time.
When you’re job searching, employers will want to know that you have the ability to multitask successfully. So, it’s important to be ready to share examples during your job interviews of how you have handled multiple tasks or projects in the past.
What Is Multitasking?
Multitasking entails juggling different work activities and shifting attention from one task to another. Ideally, an employee will be able to meet the demands of several different stakeholders without dropping the ball.
The danger in multitasking is that effectiveness can be compromised if the worker tries to carry out too many tasks at the same time.
Modern technology complicates the situation for many workers since they are expected to handle simultaneous demands through email, Slack, Zoom, text messages, phone calls, and in-person contact with colleagues and clients. It’s become the norm to check your phone and your email while working on other tasks.
Jobs that require intense concentration on complex tasks and also entail frequent interaction with others can be particularly challenging. It can be hard to focus when you're trying to do too many things at once, and it's important to be able to manage your workload.
How (and How Not) to Successfully Multitask
Employees who multitask effectively must be able to rotate their concentration smoothly and entirely from one activity to another. In order to do this successfully, workers must be able to prioritize tasks and address the most critical and pressing demands first.
It's also important to know when multitasking is a bad idea. There are certain jobs and tasks where you need to work on one thing at a time. Be cognizant of that when you're interviewing and be sure to tailor your response to questions to the job you're being considered for.
Examples of Multitasking Skills
The following list features situations in which a worker would be expected to multitask. You’ll find examples that apply to many different industries, from hospitality and medicine to design and finance. Use these situations to come up with your own examples of times when you multitasked at work.
- Answering the phone while greeting visitors in a busy reception area
- Carrying out work on three different graphic design projects at varying stages of completion
- Completing five different meal orders at the same time
- Designing a new website while updating other sites
- Disciplining a student who is acting out while teaching a lesson
- Driving a bus while quieting a verbally abusive passenger
- Fielding calls from distressed investors while managing portfolios during a downturn in the market
- Managing several social media accounts while working on email marketing tasks
- Monitoring air traffic patterns and directing aircraft
- Polishing a press release while finalizing the details for a promotional event
- Preparing a lecture, generating a grant proposal, interacting with advisees who drop in, and providing input to a committee chair
- Preparing a sales presentation while fielding a complaint from another customer
- Prioritizing complaints in a customer service office
- Processing closing documents for a variety of real estate deals
- Processing insurance paperwork, scheduling appointments, greeting patients, and answering the phone in a dental office
- Refining computer programs while responding to the needs of in-house users
- Responding to the call button from patients while recording case notes
- Revising the performance review process while answering employee questions about benefits
- Scheduling workers while managing their job responsibilities
- Serving drinks, finalizing checks, taking orders, and delivering food while it is still hot to restaurant patrons
- Triaging patients in the emergency room
- Writing a performance appraisal while fielding a call from the boss and finding a replacement for an absent worker
- Writing a proposal for a remodeling job while scheduling subcontractors
How to Demonstrate Your Skills
If a job advertisement specifically asks for candidates with strong multitasking skills, then it’s a good idea to sit down before your interview and come up with examples.
List instances where you have had to multitask in your previous jobs. If you’re a recent college graduate, look for examples when you managed multiple priorities as part of your coursework.
Once you have two or three examples you know that you can elaborate upon, you’ll be more than prepared to show your interviewers that you’re the multitasking rock star they’re seeking.
As an entrepreneur, you have a lot on your plate. Staying focused can be tough with a constant stream of employees, clients, emails, and phone calls demanding your attention. Amid the noise, understanding your brain’s limitations and working around them can improve your focus and increase your productivity.
Our brains are finely attuned to distraction, so today’s digital environment makes it especially hard to focus. “Distractions signal that something has changed,” says David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work (HarperCollins, 2009). “A distraction is an alert says, ‘Orient your attention here now; this could be dangerous.'” The brain’s reaction is automatic and virtually unstoppable.
While multitasking is an important skill, it also has a downside. “It reduces our intelligence, literally dropping our IQ,” Rock says. “We make mistakes, miss subtle cues, fly off the handle when we shouldn’t, or spell things wrong.”
To make matters worse, distraction feels great. “Your brain’s reward circuit lights up when you multitask,” Rock says, meaning that you get an emotional high when you’re doing a lot at once.
Ultimately, the goal is not constant focus, but a short period of distraction-free time every day. “Twenty minutes a day of deep focus could be transformative,” Rock says.
Try these three tips to help you become more focused and productive:
1. Do creative work first.
Typically, we do mindless work first and build up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus. “An hour into doing your work, you’ve got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning),” Rock says. “Every decision we make tires the brain.”
In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work, like deleting emails or scheduling meetings, later in the day.
2. Allocate your time deliberately.
By studying thousands of people, Rock found that we are truly focused for an average of only six hours per week. “You want to be really diligent with what you put into those hours,” he says.
Most people focus best in the morning or late at night, and Rock’s studies show that 90 percent of people do their best thinking outside the office. Notice where and when you focus best, then allocate your toughest tasks for those moments.
3. Train your mind like a muscle.
When multitasking is the norm, your brain quickly adapts. You lose the ability to focus as distraction becomes a habit. “We’ve trained our brains to be unfocused,” Rock says.
Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time. If you find your mind wandering, just return to the task at hand. “It’s just like getting fit,” Rock says. “You have to build the muscle to be focused.”