Are you a great multi-tasker?
My two little kids and I play the tidy up game. It’s where we each tidy up a room (for my kids it’s always their own bedroom) for about 10 minutes and we then score each other out of 10 based on overall tidiness. We have fun playing it and I love the temporary feeling of having order back. Today the order lasted 15 minutes max. Both kids went back to their bedrooms and obviously went from one thing to another, leaving an even larger trail of mess than before. Got to love kids and mess – not!
Going from one unrelated task to another wrecks your productivity
As I reflected on my kid’s behaviour I remembered an article I’d just read on what harms our productivity at work the most – jumping between various, unrelated tasks¹. I realised I’m just like my kids – like when I:
- Try do to more than one task at a time
- Go from one task to another in quick succession
- Go to the next task and start that one before the last task is complete.
Do you do this too? How often are you getting distracted by checking emails or social media, or being interrupted by the next meeting you have to go to? Are you trying to do 20 things at once, telling yourself you’re a great multi-tasker when in fact you lose track of what you’re supposed to be doing?
Many people think they’re good at multitasking, but the research says it simply isn’t true. We get less done, and we do it less accurately and effectively, when we try to multitask. And the people who think they’re good at multitasking are actually the worst at it.
The cost of time and productivity is huge.
Our love of multi-tasking is killing our productivity. The article stated:
- We spend an average of just 1 minute and 15 seconds on a task before being interrupted.
- It takes an average of 25 minutes to resume a task after being interrupted.
- Heavily multitasking can temporarily lower your IQ by up to 15 points.
Working better means being distracted less
Here are some ways to manage your distractions to keep you focused on the task at hand:
- Set up your day and know the important tasks you’ve got to get done – don’t negotiate on these.
- Turn off phone and email notifications. Just because an email title sounds important, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is.
- Give yourself time limits to work on tasks so that you’ll be less likely to distract yourself because you literally can’t afford the time.
- Try to schedule your meetings in blocks rather than having them scattered though the day. This approach will allow you blocks of time to focus on getting your work done.
- Book time in your diary for email (say twice a day) and stick to it.
- Notice when you want to distract yourself (notice the habits you have – you’ll know what they are) and decide to turn your attention back to the task at hand. Focus on getting that thing done first.
Bringing it all together
At the end of the day distractions are an inevitable part of working life. The secret to your productivity is managing the distractions that you control. Develop the habit of completing your most important daily tasks in short, focused bursts of activity, without distraction. When you do, you’ll see your productivity soar. It’s a great way to step up your game!