These days, everyone is a multitasker. We talk while we drive, we answer text messages or e-mails during meetings, we return phone calls while surfing the Internet, we work on different docs in different applications all at once, and we cook dinner while talking on the phone.
But instead of being a hallmark of efficiency, multitasking is actually a detriment to productivity. In fact, research says that performance actually decreases when we do more than one task at a time. Multitasking is counterproductive, our work is poorer for it, and we have to learn to stop doing it.
Now, this is tough, as we have all taught ourselves that doing only one thing at a time is somehow lazy, less desirable, or a luxury of some sort. Why just sit there reading a report when you could also be checking your e-mail? Why just sit in that meeting listening when you could also be sending texts? Sound familiar? Multitasking is a habit that’s hard to break, but there are a lot of strategies you can use to help you stop:
1. Answer e-mails only at a certain time. Don’t check constantly throughout the day. If the little icon announcing a new e-mail is too tempting, close the program.
2. Answer or return phone calls at a certain time, as well. Only take a call if it is imperative to do so, otherwise, let it go to voicemail.
3. When you are on the phone, shut out other distractions, like your computer screen or paperwork, and focus on the phone call.
4. Make it easy to succeed by limiting distractions. When you are working on something, turn off, mute, or stow other gadgets, screens, projects, papers, reports, etc.
5. Make sure your workspace is well organized and free of clutter. A cluttered space can lead to a cluttered mind, so you want to be sure your space lends itself to focused thinking and activity.
6. Same thing for your computer. Don’t open too many programs on your screen. Keep your computer desktop organized, too. Try to keep it simple so you can focus.
7. Appreciate the bottom line. Understanding that shifting or splitting your mental attention actually costs you efficiency and time will help you stop multitasking.
Multitasking is really just a bad habit that can be broken with a little understanding and a little discipline. You learned how to multitask, and you can learn to stop, too. Trust me, your work and your mood will improve.