Multitasking, in the sense of doing two or more tasks at once, isn’t really possible, and it isn’t good for us. More correctly known as task-switching, this practice creates the illusion of productivity even as it’s slowing us down and sapping our efficiency.
It’s so easy to fall into the multitasking trap as we live and work in a world that connects us to everything all the time. We’ve developed the habit of multitasking out of a sense of necessity, and no habit is easy to break. While the following list offers a number of ways to help break the multitasking habit, it’s important to remember we often get better results with small, incremental changes than with radical ones. Just trying a few of these hints can boost productivity and get us on the way to recovering from the multitasking habit.
Most of our attempts at multitasking can be traced back to our devices. It takes discipline to put the phones or other devices away, but it can be done and should be done. Make full use of mute functions and stop notifications to avoid the temptation of the “ping” when a new message comes in. Even if we’re just scrolling through our feeds while eating lunch, we’re depriving ourselves of vital time to refresh and regroup, which affects our efficiency later in the day.
Clean Up the Desktop
If we’re not distracted by our devices, our other multitasking behaviors are often associated with our activities at our desks– specifically on our computer desktops. For better or worse, it’s become a standard practice to have documents or spreadsheets running alongside a browser with several tabs open in the background. While our computers are built to run more than one program at once, we are not.
A better practice is to only open the programs and apps we need for the task at hand. Close the extra tabs on the browser, or close the browser altogether. If you find some sites are creating extra distractions, use a plug-in to block them. If you don’t feel the need to go nuclear, another strategy is to bookmark the pages you want to see and save them for a time when you can give them your complete focus.
Often those extra browser windows and interesting pages end up open on our desktops because we were working on a project, totally focused, and then we had to check the spelling of a name or some obscure fact. We’ve all ended up seeing something shiny and following it into the far reaches of the internet. It happens. One way to prevent that from happening is to make spell-checking and fact-checking a separate task. Use placeholders in documents, by highlighting or underlining the things you need to look up. The placeholders help maintain momentum with the primary task. Come back later to look up those names and facts so you don’t fall down an internet rabbit hole.
Set Short Deadlines
Making to-do lists and setting priorities are helpful steps toward multitasking recovery, but we can make those tools work even more effectively by setting deadlines for ourselves. Specifically, we can set unrealistically short deadlines for our tasks. By using this strategy, we can trick ourselves into pushing forward with a single task and maintaining focus until the task is completed. Shorter deadlines also promote getting things done more quickly, so we don’t lose the sense of satisfaction the multitasking illusion provides as we’re getting more done.
One Thing at a Time
As recovering multitaskers, we need to remember not to start a new task until the present task is complete. It’s easy to say to ourselves “This (email, phone call, fact-check, form) will just take a minute.” Maybe it will just take a minute, and maybe it won’t, but the real loss of efficiency comes from the shifting of focus. Make a commitment to finish the current thing before moving on to the next thing.
At The Records Company, we don’t multitask. We do one thing: we retrieve records to deliver them to you as quickly as possible and save you money. Learn how to make our singular focus work for you by contacting us today.