Thanks to downsizing and the wizardry of modern technology, people often find themselves doing the jobs of two, three or even four people. You don’t even have time to scratch yourself. Even at home — so much to do, so little time.
So the temptation to knock off as many birds as you can with one stone, i.e. to multi-task, is pretty big. But it’s usually a mistake, because it means you do none of the tasks very well and often, you need to do them a second or even a third time, to get them right. (And not getting them right is bad, bad, bad.) In the end, multi-tasking leads to rework that actually takes more time than if you’d concentrated on doing it right first time.
Not only that, but when you multi-task, you’re really just switching quickly from one task to another and back again. Computers can do that. People can’t. Unlike computers, human brains have to do a quick, ‘Now where was I?’ catch-up. Even when you’re not conscious of it, your brain has to make the decision to switch tasks, then switch, and then warm up to the new task. That might only take half a second, but it all adds up to wasted time when you do a lot of multi-tasking. That’s why we’re generally much better doing one task at a time and sticking with it for as long as we can.
Here’s the exception: really simple tasks you can do on automatic pilot. You can do two or three or even four routine things at a time. You can walk, chew gum (unless you’re in Singapore), hum a tune, and look for koalas and possums in the trees (when you’re in Australia) all at the same time, for instance.
But when you need your brain to pay attention, stop the multi-tasking and concentrate. You get a better job done in less time that way.
You can further boost your productivity by grouping your work into like activities. Write some emails, read some reports, then make a few phone calls. Don’t try to do all three at once and don’t hop from one to another.
The more you have on your plate, the more important it is to set priorities. And stick to them. Don’t get distracted by emails, phone calls or friendly chats. Know what the most important things to do are and keep working on them, one at a time. When you’re interrupted, and you will be, make a quick note of where you were up to so you can go straight back to that priority task with a much shorter ‘Now where was I?’ catch-up.
Being in high gear all the time reduces your productivity and increases your stress. So concentrate on one meaningful task at a time and do it right – first time. Go for quality. You’ll be more productive and less frenzied.