Guest Post by Kyle O’Brien
It seems there are so many productivity hacks out there, I get confused where to start. One week I’m sneaking away for a few seconds to go try and think about nothing to clear my head (saw it in a TED talk). Another week, I’m switching my Spotify playlist from Radiohead and Springsteen to movie soundtracks. One time I decided to have three tasks open and spent half the day trying to answer emails, write scripts, and monitor the company dashboard all at once.
Guess which one didn’t help?
The last one, of course. And don’t just take my word for it. Research has determined just how badly your performance and intelligence drops when you multitask.
There’s the 2009 Stanford study that determined chronic multitaskers are terrible at completing projects on time. Even more alarming, those same multitaskers performed equally as poor on singular focused tasks. Probably because their brain waves were so disoriented from constant transit thoughts that maintaining focus was an uphill battle.
Or what about the University of London study that found multitasking hammers our IQ down an average of 10 points? To be exact, extreme multitasking for men takes away 15 IQ points; women only lose 5 IQ points the harder they switch tasks. In that test they focused solely on going from email to text messaging. Imagine other scenarios?
So the answer is don’t multitask. Ever. Right?
Well, no. Our jobs don’t really allow us to not multitask. What we do need is to learn to work smarter. We must develop better habits that keep us focused on what’s in front of us.
The Cool Down on Multitasking
Here are some quick ways to avoid multitasking, or at least lessen its effects.
Simplify Your Schedule: Log-jamming your weeks with many tasks and thinking “I’m working on the weekend, look at me!” is going to eventually catch up with you. If it’s not the quality of the work suffering, your joy for work might. Start with a clean slate and spend time working on a schedule that benefits both your deadlines and your sanity.
Say “No” to Some Requests: Not every suggestion from a co-worker or manager needs to be tended to immediately. You should be able to spot emergencies from “back-burner” assignments, but that doesn’t mean you have to say “yes” to the latter every time.
Breathe: We tense up a lot at work. The stress of deadlines and unfinished work eats away at us, and when we have to multitask, we’re just adding more stress on top of it. Don’t let it. Take deeper breaths. Close your eyes and count backwards from ten to each inhale and exhale. Whatever trick works best for you, do more of it and coach yourself through the stress.
Get Wired In: Since most workplace distractions force you into multitasking (a noisy co-worker, doors opening and closing, etc.), plug them up with earphones and good tunes. In fact, I found this gem of a music station designed specifically to gauge productivity. Check it out.
Final Thoughts on Working Smarter
There’s no such thing as the best multitasker. Rather, there’s no such thing as an efficient multitasker. The best way we can work smarter starts with developing routines that increase our output at work. That starts with putting the kibosh on trying to be a “do-everything” employee all the time.
Kyle is the Community Manager for an e-learning company, ej4, and has written many articles concerning daily workplace struggles, how to improve one’s leadership abilities and how to motivate employees the right way. Follow them on Google + for more.
Join the Conversation
Wanna Work Smarter? Cool Down on Multitasking
Focussing on the important task at hand instead of multitasking is one of the important steps to a higher productivity and a more relaxed state of mind. Good post.
Thanks for reading, Raymond! I’m glad you mentioned the relaxed state of mind from prioritizing one task instead of stretching yourself thin on multiple ones. At one of my previous jobs, I had trouble sorting through four tasks. In my head, I imagined they were all equally important. My manager walked over and said, “Which one’s going to make us the most money?” I pointed to one and he said, “Work on that now.” It was as simple as that, yet hard to reach that point consistently because of a natural urge to want to accomplish more with less time.
Most everybody has a scheduled day where there are too many things to do in the allotted time. “You have all the time there is,” is a favorite saying in our household. Depending upon how many things there are to do, I may also look at doing some simple prioritization beyond the “feel” that you describe (which is usually enough). That prioritization is just the simple Hi/Lo matrix (on impact of the task and level of difficulty). I only use that when the number of tasks is really high. Otherwise, I tend to do the things I want to do first; instead of the things that need to be done first. Enjoyed your post, Kyle!
Hi Joy! Thanks for reading and I completely agree with your take. Trying to push yourself beyond the allotted time too much will only leave you scatterbrained.