Have you ever heard that women can multi-task better than men because they are forced to get good at it by balancing kids, households and careers? Or that multi-tasking allows you to get way more done in a given time period? Ever wonder why some people seem to get way more done than others in the same time period? I would argue that it may be true that women may multi-task better than men, but that doesn’t mean they get more done doing things that way. I would further argue that multi-tasking hurts productivity.
First let me say that multi-tasking itself is impossible. No one can effectively do two or more things at the same time. What you actually do is switch your concentration and effort back and forth quickly. So rather than call it multi-tasking, I would name it flip-tasking. You are flipping back and forth between tasks. You are not actually doing two or more things at once.
By switching back and forth you force your brain to constantly stop and start the thinking about that topic. That stop and start causes lapses in thought. You constantly have to figure out where you last left off and pick it up from there. Now some things are OK to do at the same time, like exercising and listening to music. But listening to music is not a task. It is background noise. (And by the way, it is another source of distraction if the background noise forces you to pay close attention at times.)
The worst distractions are instant messaging, social media, email and cell phones. Many of us, including me, are far too easily distracted by incoming messages or images from these sources. We think we can work on a task and also monitor messages at the same time, but the reality is every time you look at a message, you are pulling yourself away from the task at hand and stretching it out longer.
A much more productive way to get things done is to block out enough time to start and finish a task completely, before you go on to the next task.
I will admit that I struggle with this concept every day. I have found that I get the most done by blocking out specific times on my calendar to do specific tasks – one at a time. For instance, I block out an hour each day to write articles for this newsletter and other publications. During that time, I close my door, put my cell phone out of sight, turn off the radio and totally focus on writing. Some days I do not even come into the office, but instead stay at home where there are no distractions. I am also starting to block out specific times each day to check email.
I also work from to-do lists and then schedule the task on the to-do list for specific times. There is another benefit to this strategy and that is you get to cross things off your to-do list and watch the list get smaller. There is definitely a sense of satisfaction when I get to cross things off the list.
Try it and watch your productivity improve.