Multi-tasking, that glorious idea that you can consciously focus on numerous activities all at once. Everyone will admit that they are less focused when they are multitasking, and we know that when we lose focus we aren’t nearly as productive. So by default, multitasking is a productivity killer, not a productivity enhancement. In fact, multitasking is so bad that it actually cuts your productivity by a whopping 40%!!!
I am going to share with you 6 steps you can do right now to permanently eliminate multitasking from your repertoire of “acceptable” habits.
40% is the reduction in your actual productivity when you multitask according to Devora Zack, CEO of Only Connect Consulting, and author of the book Get More Done – One Thing at a Time. In fact, she says there really isn’t even such a thing as multi-tasking. Unlike computers running multiple threads at a time, our brains are really only capable of handling one process at a time in our conscious mind. What this means is that while you may THINK you are listening to that conference call, responding to that email, and texting your significant other at the same time, really only one of those tasks is registering in your brain at a time. This is costing you both efficiency and brain cells.
The real problem stems from the fact that like that giant bear claw you want so bad, while it’s really bad for you, it feels (or tastes in the bear claw case) so good! The reason you are feeling this way is the age old shiny object syndrome. When you switch from one task to another your brain goes OOOOO NEW AND SHINY and releases a jolt of dopamine into your body. This is the same effect that heroin does… That’s right, multitasking is like taking heroine, at least from your body’s perspective!
Fortunately there are several ways to fight this addiction to the newness and regain your efficiency, and kick the habit! Here’s how!
1. One Task To Rule Them All – Choose wisely
I wrote a blog about choosing… while that went into detail of a number of other choices you have to make as an entrepreneur, the same applies here. You must CHOOSE to do one thing at a time. Not just choose it, but you must commit to it as well, regardless of what else may come up during that time. “This means you must stand firm and genuinely commit to your choices.” According to Zack.
Now it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that you have to do a single task until completion, but it means picking a certain amount of time or an end point for working on that task with no further distractions.
There are numerous methodologies that can help you achieve this, such as the Pomodoro technique, among many others. You can pick a methodology that makes the most sense for you or that you have had success with. The methodology is not as important as choosing to maintain this focus.
2. Curb Your Distractions
Everyone has had this happen at some point. You’re focusing on a task and you suddenly get an awesome idea for something else and immediately switch to that new task while it’s “fresh in your mind”. While there may be something to say about the “fresh in your mind” aspect of tackling a new task, this is the same thing as multitasking.
Find some place to write down these distractions in a brief format so you don’t forget the idea nor forget to do it. The amazing part about our brain is that the moment we go back to that note on the idea, it will be like we picked up exactly where we left off. Our brain will track down the though process that is still floating around in your head and let you pick back up right where you left off.
I have found tools like Trello help me with this. I can create a new task, make a few notes about what was in my head for that task and then come back and tackle it later on.
3. Go Stealth Mode
Once you have decided to dedicate some time and focus in on what you are doing, you also need to ensure that everyone else around you respects that decision and that time. As Zack says “It’s up to you to control your environment–to ‘build fences’ to keep potential distractions, such as noise and pop-ups, at bay.” I call this going into stealth mode, because the best way to eliminate distractions is to make it hard as heck for anyone to find you during that time!
Here are a few top secret ideas for an effective stealth mode
- Turn your phone off, not silent or vibrate, but all the way off. When it’s off if someone calls you it will go directly to voicemail, it won’t ring at all. This lets them know that you are clearly doing something else and sets the expectation that you won’t be getting back to them immediately.
- Turn off your Wi-Fi (or disconnect the cable if your wired in) if you don’t need internet for the task. This will prevent any emails, Facebook notifications, twitter notifications, cat pics, and whatever else might distract you from getting to you! Once you reconnect you will still get all those notifications!
- Close, NOT minimize, all non-essential applications. If things are open and sitting right there, they are likely to cause distractions. So close them down and prevent that from ever happening.
- Close your door, and put a note on it if you have to. If you don’t have a door then put a note on the back of your chair instead! Just let people know that you are in a focus time block and that unless it involves a 911 call not to disturb you. Use a bright red piece of paper or bright red text to further indicate that it’s NOT ok to bug you for “a quick second”. Over time you will set the tone and expectation for everyone else. Stay strong and enforce the do not disturb if someone does. Politely let them know that it’s not ok, and you will get back to them at the end of your designated time or task.
All of these things are firmly within your control should you choose to control them.
4. Batches are best
Have you ever calculated how much time you spend answering things the moment they come in vs batching that action to a designated block of time and focusing on responding then? In my previous job I found out that nearly 16 hours a week were spent answering emails and looking at my calendar. Once I realized how much it was… I was SHOCKED… so I changed it.
I immediately set 2 times a day to read email (10am and 4pm), the rest of the time I actually closed outlook on my computer and refused to open it or look at it until those designated times. I would note down my schedule of meetings for the day in a notepad and use that. I trained everyone that if it could wait until the next time I read email then email it, if it was more urgent then to call me and leave me a voicemail (not a text… but to call, this ensures that they realllllly do want to disturb you).
About 1 month into this implementation I had dramatically reduced my hours spent on email and calendar from 16 per a week to less than 2. Most of the emails I got seemed to magically resolve themselves before I was needed to get involved. The rest go answered fairly quickly, and I found myself with a LOT more time.
Now my system may not be feasible for everyone and my results may be much more dramatic than yours, but the point stands. If you batch what you are doing, and focus on just that during that batch time, your efficiency will increase!
5. Meditation can be truly Zen
Did you know that the average human attention span is 1 second shorter than that of a goldfish… only 8 seconds long. We have become so overstimulated with the availability of something to do every second that we are rarely just along with our thoughts any more.
Take a few minutes and try meditating. You don’t have to sit and chant if you don’t want to, but just take a few minutes at the very least to help you get clarity in your own mind.
I was taught this exercise by one of my mentors, it’s a simple standing meditation. Simply place your arms out in front of you as though you were hugging someone. Your palms facing inward and close your eyes. Then take a deep breath, and let it out twice as slow as you brought it in. So if you breathe in for 3 seconds, breathe out for 6 seconds. I find it helpful to bring my hands in closer to my body as though I am hugging this invisible person tighter when I breathe in, and then move them back out when I breathe out. Try doing this for 5-10 times and see how you feel. I would be willing to be you will be more relaxed and aware of your environment when you’re done.
6. No Means No
Most entrepreneurs are YES people by default. We want to say yes to everything, because we have passion for what we do. However sometimes you just need to say no and mean it. Be aware of your time, your energy, your focus, and what you are doing. If you are constantly saying yes, you will find yourself multitasking because you feel like you are getting something done on all the projects you are working on. In reality you are just slowing down the completion of the things you could have been focused on.
So there you have it! 6 simple things you can do to gain back that 40% you are losing to multitasking. What other things help you be more productive? Let me know in the comments below! Lastly, sharing is caring! If you enjoyed this article please consider sharing it on social media