Why You Need to Stop Multitasking at Work to Get Things Done


Multitasking. If you’re an older millennial or from an older generation, you probably have a love-hate relationship with this word like I do. When I applied for my first job, “the ability to multitask” was listed on every job listing. It was the skill every employer wanted you to have. You couldn’t be good at just one thing; you needed to excel at doing multiple things at the same time.

And so many of us thought that we were great at multitasking. Sure, I can answer the phone while waiting on a client and counting the money in my drawer at the same time. Why not?

Realistically, there are very few things that we can succeed at while multitasking, and most of them don’t have to do with the average workday. I can talk on the phone while I fold laundry. I can listen to a podcast while I make dinner. And I can listen to an audiobook while I go for a walk.

But if I’m honest, I don’t really do my best at any of those things the way I would if I were doing only one of the tasks at a time. I learn a lot more from podcasts when I eagerly listen to them with a notepad by my side to jot down any important things I learn. I give my friends and family more direct attention if I’m not folding laundry while listening. And, I can enjoy walking through my neighborhood and taking in the sounds, sights, and smells of nature more if I’m not distracted by an audiobook.

Imagine what this looks like during a workday.

You can’t multitask…

As much as you want to be able to give your attention to multiple things at once, you really can’t. You may want to argue about this, but the truth is if you try to multitask, you’re not doing your best at anything. Your brain isn’t focused on both tasks at the same time. Instead, studies found that when you try multitasking, you’re forcing your brain to jump between activities, which leads to being less efficient.

If you think you’re getting more than one thing done at a time, you’re likely doing both things at a slower pace. You would be better off choosing one thing and finishing it before moving on to the next.

Stop trying to do more than one thing at a time

Here’s the interesting thing. This isn’t new. Our brains were never good at multitasking and the studies have backed it up for years now. If you’re still trying to play the old game that employers required, it’s time to stop. Stop trying to multitask yourself, and stop expecting your employees to do the same. Instead, try the following:

Prioritize your tasks

Since you can’t do it all at the same time, you need to prioritize your tasks. There are many systems out there to help you with this process. You can try the Fibonacci Sequence for Agile Development, Priority Matrix taught by Steven Covey, choose your 20% tasks from the Pareto principle, or choose a different strategy. For example, at SPEARity, we recommend connecting your tasks to your goals so you know if you’re working on things that move the needle forward.

You can choose the system that works the best for you, but make sure you choose something to help you prioritize your to-do list.

Know when you’re most productive

Everyone has their own time when they are most productive. Many people find this is first thing in the morning. Some find it’s at the end of the day. Figure out when you’re the most productive and then be intentional with this time. Don’t waste your most productive hours checking emails or returning phone calls. Reserve this time for the tasks that need your undivided attention and most creative energy.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish

One reason we try to multitask is that we’re trying to stuff too many tasks into one day. If we know it’s going to be a struggle to get through our list, we’re tempted to try to get more things done at once. We start reading emails while on the phone or checking email all throughout the day instead of at set times.

If you constantly aren’t accomplishing the items on your list for the day, you’re trying to do too much. Look for ways to make a change. Track your time for a week to see where you’re losing time. Delegate tasks that can be done by someone else. Cross of things from your list that don’t really need your attention. Eliminate time-wasters like long meetings that could be accomplished through emails.

Protect your calendar

You are the only person who has 100% control over what is on your calendar. If you’re too busy every day, start looking for things you can cut. Find ways to batch tasks together that allow you to save time. Don’t agree to coffee 3 days a week with a coworker if you don’t have the time. Make sure the things that are going on your calendar are the things that actually matter.

Check-in with yourself throughout the day

This can be a tough shift to make. If you struggle with sticking to one task at a time, set a timer and check in with yourself throughout the day. I find that using a Pomodoro timer helps me stay focused. While the timer is going, I stick to one task. Once the timer goes off, I can choose if I’m going to stay on that task or move to something different. I have also found tracking my time is incredibly helpful for sticking to one task. Once you see where your time is being wasted, you can be more intentional about correcting it.

If you want help at increasing efficiency and productivity, a SPEARity coach can help. Contact us today to explore coaching and training options for you and your staff.

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