Stop Multitasking and Focus

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m a pro at multitasking!”?

Maybe you’ve said it yourself.

I have bad news. Multitaskers may not be as productive and tuned-in as they think they are. Studies have shown time and time again that not only is multitasking less efficient, but it may actually be impossible.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an interesting article on multitasking research.

Now, I’m not here to be accusatory. I’ve definitely been there. Up until a few years ago, I would have insisted that I was the queen of multitasking. And then, suddenly, I realized I wasn’t.

I had taken a job as an assistant to three executives, plus my role required project management work. My brain was constantly running in eight different directions and while I was able to keep myself organized, I found it was taking me longer and longer to get through tasks that were seemingly simple. Why was it taking me so long to book travel and get it on calendars? Expense reports were taking twice as long to get done. And I just couldn’t seem to get my project reports sent out. I was drowning.

Something had to change.

At this time, I overhauled the way I managed myself. I started employing new productivity techniques, including batching my work and scheduling to-dos. But the bigger problem wasn’t my organization. It was my mindset.

My entrance to the workforce came as the economy was sucker-punched by the 2008 recession. Every employer was looking for hyperproductive, jack-of-all-trades, high ROI employees. “Ability to multitask” topped every job description.

So I learned to multitask and marketed my skill. I could bounce between tasks and shift gears at the drop of the hat. I was accessible at all times, ever-ready to respond and handle the constant flow of requests. No matter what I was working on, I could work on that new request too!

Fast forward to drowning at my job, my Multitasking is King mindset was actually hurting me – not helping me. The reality was I could do it all. But if I wanted to do it all well, I couldn’t do it all at once.

So, how? How do you make the shift? What can you implement today that will help you stop multitasking?

I’m so glad you asked.

Here are my top tips to increase your focus and actually be more productive.

Turn Off Notifications – We hear this a lot, but most of us can’t seem to cut the cord. Turn off your email notifications. Turn off your ringer. Nothing will jolt your mind out of your workflow faster than *ding* the beckon *ding* of something *ding* unrelated to *ding* what you’re currently working *ding* on.

Batch Your Work – I write about work batching at length here. Give it a try!

Keep a Parking Lot – In meeting facilitation, we write down related but not addressable questions/concerns/action items to the side in a Parking Lot. These are things for later what we don’t want to forget about. Do this for yourself while working. Keep a pad of paper and pen handy to capture all your stray thoughts while working.

However, do not, I repeat, do not type or write directly into a task management system. Why? Because your mind will be drawn to all the things you aren’t currently doing and will derail you at lightning fast speeds. Just jot down your thought and add it to your list later.

Close Browser Tabs and Applications – The more distractions in your line of sight, the more likely you are to flail around. Close browser tabs and applications that aren’t 100% necessary to your current task. Extra Bonus: You will have less running on your computer and it will be faster too!

Utilize Do Not Disturb – Whether in chat or on your phone, do not disturb is your electronic gatekeeper. Flip it on while you’re in intensive work mode or for tasks that would suffer from an interruption (psst, use it for when you sleep too!) Does turning this on make you cringe a little? Then communicate with your coworkers. Let them know that when Do Not Disturb is on, you are focusing on a task that needs your undivided attention and to come find you if their request is vitally urgent. In a chat system like Office Communicator or Google Chat, you can even change your status to give an estimated “return” time.

Set a Timer – Does time get away from you while you’re working? Me too! Even more so when I’m in a solid workflow. To combat this, set a timer for when you want to be interrupted, either for another task or a break. For instance, when I’m doing design work for my clients, I hit a creative stride and will not budge from my seat for hours. Not good. So I set a timer for when I need to get up to stretch and check in with emails. There are a number of online timers you can use – even one built right into Google. Just search “timer” and set your time.

Be Hard to Find – If there’s a door, close it. If you can leave your desk, do it. Laptops provide mobility for a reason. If you’re in an open office environment, book a conference room to work with out distraction. Need further focus, talk to your manager about working remotely to handle particularly intense tasks. When I was a communications manager, I would batch my big monthly writing projects to one or two days and work from home so my creative flow wouldn’t be interrupted by general office life.

Track Your Habits – Every person is unique and has their habits. Frankly, these solutions may not serve you. If you are still struggling with multitasking and interruptions, find the source. Start tracking what your attention grabbers are. When working on a project/task, write down every single thing you do that took your attention away from what you should be doing. For example, in writing this blog post, I reacted to two emails, my husband came in to say “hi,” and when finding links, I got distracted reading two other articles. Clearly, I have some work to do too.

Ready to give it a try? All you have to do is start with one. Change one habit and add on as you get more comfortable with your new boundaries – and productivity!

Happy working!

Jen Lawrence Sign Off

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