In today’s fast-paced, high-tech world there are 100 things to do and 101 distractions. Multitasking, AKA: Trying To Do Too Many Things At Once is a surefire way to increase your stress levels while getting less done. Here’s what to do instead.
You may see your Digital Native Tweens playing a video game, watching YouTube, checking Instagram and sending text messages, all at the same time. They may even do this while they’re doing their homework. Maybe they’re genuinely multitasking, and maybe it even works for them.
There could well be differences in the way the brain functions if you grow up with this level of technology, but unless your first toy was an iPad this isn’t going to work for you!
And even if it seems like the most natural thing in the world to you, the chances are high that you won’t do your best work when your mind’s in six places at once.
If you want to be effective and productive, you need to stop multitasking. Instead you need to focus. Here’s how:
1 – Accept that multitasking is bad
More to the point – multitasking doesn’t even exist!
Rather, there’s the constant starting and stopping of tasks, switching from one to another without ever properly focussing on one thing.
Your brain can only hold a small amount of information in short term memory, so whenever you switch from one task to another, there’s always a down time, while you bring the relevant information to mind. This becomes dramatically worse the more things you try to do at once.
No matter what you may think, you’ll be more effective and more productive if you will focus on one thing at a time, working until it’s done or reaches a pre-assigned milestone.
2 – Do the important things first
It’s entirely possible to spend a full ‘working’ day checking and replying to emails, reading and commenting on the latest, must-read blog posts, checking on six different social media accounts, getting caught up in pointless discussions, and scheduling things that need to be done later.
It’s not productive – I speak from experience!
Use a To Do list and put the important things first. In order of priority, the important things are:
- Your personal learning and growth
- Working on the major project that will pay you big-time in the future
- Doing work that pays you now.
Once the important work is done, fit everything else in the spaces around it.
Check social media in your coffee break. Read blog posts at lunchtime.
Consider leaving email and other admin tasks until the end of your working day when you’re probably not at peak performance. Don’t waste your creative energy on filing or form-filling.
3 – Your Inbox is not a To Do list!
Use the 2 minute rule: If it takes 2 minutes or less to action then do it now. This can include replying to emails if you need to, archiving or deleting them if you don’t need them now.
If it takes longer than 2 minutes, turn it into a task, add it to a list, and put the email in the appropriate folder, knowing that the information is in the right pace for when you do need it.
You don’t have to go for Inbox Zero – but consider it, it’s a wonderful feeling!
Above all, do not use your email inbox as an ever-growing list of things to do when you get around to it.
4 – Schedule your email
Unless your primary work is email based customer support, you do not need to check your email every five minutes!
Some people manage to work very effectively checking their emails only once or twice a week. You don’t have to go to these extremes, but find a happy and productive medium.
Don’t make checking your email the first thing you do in the day. Commit to checking email only once an hour or, better still, only 2 or 3 times a day. 99% of your email is just not that urgent.
5 – Manage your subscriptions
Take a good look at what comes into your inbox. Do you need it? Does it inform you, and do you really need that information? Does it inspire you? How does it make you feel? Do you ever act on the information you receive?
Make a practice of culling your subscriptions. Every three months take a look at what you’re receiving and ask if you still need it. Is it a valuable use of your time? Even if it only takes a few seconds to delete – if you don’t need it, unsubscribe.
For information that you want to get but don’t need urgently, set up filters to direct incoming email to a folder that you’ll review at the appropriate time. Make use of that automation – it might only take a few seconds to move an email to another folder manually, but it’s a distraction you don’t need.
6 – Don’t keep things in your head
Keeping information such as website addresses, passwords, lists of things to do and ideas for upcoming projects is a waste of memory and slows you down.
Whilst it can be excellent for long-term storage, when you’re working you want to use your brain for its primary function of thinking and processing, not for short-term storage, a task at which it’s particularly bad.
Aim to get all information out of your head and onto your computer, your phone, or onto paper.
If you suffer from information overload and struggle to find information that you know you once had, search online for Bullet Journal and consider using the system.
7 – Use a To Do list – or a Will Do list
Don’t be one of those people that has a to-do list the length of a novel, constantly adding items that rarely ever get actioned.
Instead use a Will Do list.
In the evening make a list of the three most important things that you have to do tomorrow – that you will do tomorrow.
Of course you’ll keep another list of things that may need your attention later, but don’t be distracted by an endless list. Focus on what’s important and work only on that, until it’s done.
When you prioritize your tasks properly you can relax into your work, knowing that you’re doing the most important thing. Forget everything else for the time when, according to your schedule, it then becomes the most important thing. Until then, don’t give it a thought.
8 – Ease of access
How much time do you spend searching for website addresses, trying to remember passwords and hunting for files buried somewhere deep on your computer?
It might only take a few minutes to find the information you need, but that’s time when you could have been doing productive work and the frustration will add to your stress levels.
Use a password storage service, a bookmarking site or favorites list, and set up a logical file system on computer so you can quickly and easily find the information you need.
For some people, keeping and finding information in a book just makes more sense. If that’s you then remember that not everything has to be digital all the time, so just use something that works for you. Check out Bullet Journal if you don’t already have an effective system in place.
9 – Turn off distractions
When you’re working – do work. Don’t do distractions. Multitasking is a distraction.
Unless you need to use it constantly for the work you’re doing right now, put your phone away.
Turn off your email, and close any browser tabs running social media accounts or showing interesting articles. These things will all wait for later.
Clear your head of distracting thoughts by writing them down.
Put on headphones if you need to block out distracting conversations. And then get to work.
10 – It’s okay to be slow
Just because something arrived in your inbox or through a social media channel, doesn’t mean that you have to react to it right now. Could it wait an hour, or a day, or two?
If it’s a client query or customer support issue, by all means give excellent service by responding promptly. But remember that not everything is deserving of your immediate attention – some things are just a distraction.
A side benefit of taking your time to respond to non-urgent issues is that, by waiting, you may find that either the situation takes care of itself, or that your response changes once you’ve had time to reflect.
Do not be rushed into hasty decisions that you later regret or waste your time running around putting out other people’s fires!
Still being distracted?
One final thought:
If you find that you can’t bear to work without some kind of distraction, consider the nature of the work you’re doing. Do you like it?
When you’re doing work that you love you’ll naturally tend to block out all distractions, to the extent that you may forget to eat and sleep. Taking a break or finishing for the day may irritate and frustrate you.
If your work doesn’t engage you to the point where you just can’t wait to get back to it then it may be time to do something different.
What will you focus on next?
What you should do now
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