Multitasking gives us the feeling to be very productive and to achieve more tasks in a give time. However, the reality is that we slow down when multitasking.
Our brain is made in a way that basically only allows to fully concentrate on one thing. Each time you switch from one task to another your brain requires a few seconds to refocus on the new task. The same applies when switching back to the previous task. Over the time the seconds required for readjustment pile up to many valuable minutes. Although you might feel busy and productive, you would achieve more if you completed the same tasks in sequential order.
Knowing this negative impact of multitasking on your productivity should have consequences on how you plan each day:
- Process your e-mail inbox in batches. Instead of interrupting yourself each time a mail arrives you process them 3 times a day at specific times.
- Have a telephone hour. Pool your outgoing phone calls and let other people know when it is best to each you by phone.
- If you suffer from interruptions from others I recommend going to work early and completing the most important tasks first.
Switching from one task to another also can be a special form of procrastination. Instead of completing a task you don’t like you find a of other tasks to work on in “parallel”. This is an avoidance strategy that still gives a good feeling of being busy and productive. There are some effective strategies on how to cope with such a situation:
- Ask yourself: “What am I avoiding?”
- Schedule dedicated time for the task you procrastinate and just work on this task during this time
- Plan a reward for the successful completion of this task
A final advice with regards to multitasking is to focus in general. According to the Pareto Principle 20% of your actions determine 80% of your results. Rather than trying to cope with all tasks it might be much more efficient to set priorities and focus all your attention on the most important tasks.