Do you multitask?
If you multitask, I’ve got your number. You probably think you are sneaking in some extra minutes of productivity, and you’ll have a few more of those momentary highs when you cross an item off your ‘to do’ list.
Well if you truly can multitask, then you are superhuman and I take my hat off to you. Because for the rest of us, we are only created with the ability to focus on one thing fully at a time. So what we think is multitasking is really rapidly shifting our focus from task to task. When we do this “switchtasking”, we lose up to 30% efficiency. And we remember hardly anything we heard.
Literally: there was a study done in Britain in which people who took a test were either high on marijuana, in a normal state, or multitasking. Who did even worse than the potsmokers? You guessed it, the multitaskers!
In my book Success under Stress, I devoted over 35 pages to how to reduce overload, but here are a few answers to get started: Serial Monofocus. Put your full attention on one matter until it is completed or you have completed whatever milestone you have set out for yourself on that task. Then move to the next item and put all your attention on that until its completed. And here’s a question for you: If the conference call is only getting half your attention, do you really need to be on it at all or could you ask for the minutes and skim them for relevant sections…? Its ironic that we think its easier to ‘do it all’ half engaged, rather than taking the time up front to decide what ‘needle mover’ truly deserves your attention and then allowing yourself the very satisfying experience of deeply engaging there.
Here’s another answer: Bundle your tasks
Did you know that you use a different part of your brain to write your ‘to do’ list than you do to carry out the items on your ‘to do’ list? It’s much more efficient if you spend time prioritizing and creating your to do list, and then calendar the time to actually do the deep thinking or writing, etc related to carrying out the work. If you separate these two kinds of work tasks you will be more efficient than if you are mixing the writing of your to do list back and forth with doing some of the items on it. Again, whenever you do this kind of “switchtasking”, a giant vacuum cleaner sound will be heard in the background indicating you are sucking up your time with inefficiency.
When I was giving a training on Resilience for a financial institution this week, they asked me about the challenge of switching from tactical or administrative tasks to deep,creative thinking. Its true, these kinds of tasks use different parts of your brain and you are best to “batch” them. And deliberately mark your switch from one to the other. One of the best things you could do is 1-3 minutes of deep breathing to help engage the part of your brain that’s best for creative thinking (see Chapter 4 of Success under Stress for actual tools to do this).
Hope you find value in these two quick tips about being more efficient in getting your work done.