In the quest to figure out how to have more time to get it all done, it can be tempting to multi-task. However, multi-tasking can have its drawbacks. Sometimes you may think that you’re doing multiple things at once when in reality, you’re simply switching between tasks. This means that your attention is divided between two or more tasks and therefore you aren’t concentrating on any one thing completely. This can negatively affect your productivity in four important ways:
1. Each task takes longer to complete
It may seem that you’re saving time by working on several things at once. However, switching between tasks requires your brain to make an abrupt shift in direction, and it often takes time (up to 30 minutes) for it to get back up to speed. With all the constant back-and-forth, multi-tasking can actually cause you to lose hours of productivity. This is the exact opposite of what you set out to do in the first place.
2. It’s easier to make mistakes
Remember all those interruptions and shifts in focus from the last point? They amount to an increased likelihood of making mistakes. An email sent to the wrong person, a meeting scheduled for the wrong day, an appointment forgotten. When your brain is trying to do too many things at once, it’s far more susceptible to missing details and making mistakes.
3. Stress levels go up
Jumping from one task to another requires a lot of mental (and sometimes physical) effort. With all the interruptions to a single task, you’re less likely to complete it and more likely to experience frustration. Compound that by all the other tasks you’re trying to simultaneously complete and you’re left with few results and a lot of stress.
4. It can hurt relationships
If one of the things you’re trying to multi-task is a friend or family member, you could end up hurting your relationship with them. By not providing them with your full attention, you may be inadvertently signaling to that person that they are not worth your time and focus. You may also be missing key information that may be important to that person’s health and wellbeing.
Though multi-tasking may appear to be a more efficient approach to completing a list of responsibilities, it’s actually counter-productive. On your quest to discover how to have more time to finish everything, leave the multi-tasking out.
Perhaps you’re reluctant to let go of the task-switching approach despite all of its associated hazards. In fact, it may even feel like switching between tasks has been successful for you because at times, you’ve experienced excellent results. Like finally having that ball land on your number on the roulette wheel, you will eventually encounter a win. However, those wins are often few and far between and, as outlined above, can prove to be too detrimental to be worth the risk. To avoid gambling on your productivity by multi-tasking, follow the tips below:
1. Stay on an email schedule
Seeing and replying to new emails in your inbox can temporarily boost your sense of productivity. This means that many people enjoy the quick rush that comes from constantly checking their inbox. However, this is just multi-tasking in disguise as it frequently pulls you away from whatever other task you were working on. To avoid this pitfall, set time intervals at which you’ll check your email and don’t look at that inbox in between!
2. Set communication guidelines
Communication between co-workers is an essential component of most jobs. However, how that communication is sent and received can vary depending on the level of importance. Talk to your co-workers to establish communication priorities. For example, it might be okay to leave an email unanswered for 24-hours but something sent on the company messaging system may need to be addressed immediately. Having communication types categorized by level of importance will help you know what needs to be dealt with now and what can wait until later.
3. Identify which tasks should get the majority of your time
Just because you spend the most time on filing doesn’t mean that it’s your most essential task. You might find that you’re naturally spending more time on less-pressing jobs which leaves you feeling rushed and stressed when you finally reach the important ones. To correct this, create a schedule for your day in which you allot the most time to the most essential tasks. Following this schedule will help you increase your productivity and discover how to have more time to get everything done.
While interruptions from co-workers, emails, and other office happenings can break your concentration and tempt you to multi-task, there are a variety of other things that can cause similar distractions throughout your workday. These distractions can include:
1. A physically uncomfortable work environment
An uncomfortable desk chair, too much light coming through an uncovered window, a computer monitor that is too small. All of these things can cause constant, irritating distractions that pull your focus away from your task and onto how you’re physically feeling. When possible, address these environmental issues with your supervisor so they can be remedied.
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2. Issues with equipment
A poor internet connection, an old computer, or office equipment that frequently fails could also be the cause of workplace inefficiency. You may be focused on your task but if your internet speed is so low that it’s causing your workflow to lag, you’ll still find you’re losing valuable hours in your day. These types of issues also need to be addressed by your supervisor or boss.
3. A poor work set-up
It’s amazing how much time is lost by having a poorly laid-out work environment. Needing to walk longer distances to access a copy machine or printer, or to reach the file room can eat up a lot of time in your day. If possible, set up your workspace so that everything you need to complete your job efficiently is within only a few steps. This means you’re less likely to be distracted by other tasks and lose sight of what you’d been doing.
Though it may be tempting to multi-task in order to catch up in situations like these, remember that by doing so, you’ll only reduce your productivity further.
Another occurrence that is commonly mislabeled as multi-tasking is something called back-tasking. Unlike multi-tasking, which is almost always a time-waster, back-tasking can have a couple of benefits.
1. Increasing productivity
Listening to classical music while completing a report, tuning into a podcast while working on household chores, or playing upbeat music while exercising are all ways to increase your productivity. Having something playing in the background to occupy the distractable parts of your brain allows the rest of your mind to focus on the task at hand. This can mean that you’re actually less susceptible to other outside distractions and are more capable of efficiently completing your job.
2. Allowing for a more pleasant passage of time
When you’re doing something tedious or mundane, time can seem to drag on and on. However, engaging in back-tasking can make time seem to pass faster and can even make your current chore more pleasant to complete. Spending an hour in silence while cleaning the kitchen can seem like an eternity. However, listening to your favorite show in the background can provide a happy alternative that helps time seem to fly.
While back-tasking definitely has its positives, it can also have a significant drawback. For example, if the podcast you’re listening to suddenly becomes more interesting than the job you’re trying to complete, your subtle background noise has become a serious distraction. In order to keep your back-tasking where it belongs, follow these simple tips:
1. Don’t choose something too tempting
Playing a new episode of your favorite T.V. show in the background while trying to finish a paper is probably going to be more of a temptation than a benefit. You’ll likely become distracted watching the new developments on screen and lose track of your task. Make sure what you listen to in the background isn’t more attention-worthy than your responsibilities.
2. Select something that increases, not impedes, your mental flow
Trying to complete a detailed report while listening to lyric-heavy music is certain to be a distraction. Your brain will be more interested in the contents of the song than it is in your job. Instead, choose something free of lyrics, such as classical music, as the background accompaniment to your task.
3. Select something with the appropriate mood
If you’re already working on a stressful or anxiety-producing task, stay away from intense television shows, movies, or podcasts in your background. Avoiding face-paced or too-loud music would also be a good idea. Conversely, if you’re trying to complete a high-energy workout, slow and soft music would probably be a bad choice as would podcasts or shows with dull storylines.
When learning how to have more time to finish all that needs to be done in your day, following the strategies outlined above will get you moving in the right direction.