The Innocuous Enemy – Multitasking

I think I hear the word multitasking at least 20 times a day. It’s used in the context of being super productive and being able to handle it all.

I’m here to tell you that multitasking is a lie. Let’s call it what it really is. Multitasking is task switching and there is a large body of research that indicates that it is the enemy of productivity.  I believe that it’s a huge contributor to overwhelm and overworking as well.

On average task switching happens every 2-3 minutes in a digital workplace. These task switches result in frequent errors and approximately 28% in lost productivity.

Let’s do the math. If you have a task scheduled that will take you one hour, if you do nothing to minimize distractions, it will take you approximately one and half hours to accomplish this task.  If you have 8, one-hour tasks for the day, it will take you 12 hours to accomplish them.

It’s no wonder we don’t get our work done in the time we allot and that we feel pressured to work at night or on the weekends.

So what can you do about this? Here are 5 tips that I use to minimize distractions.

  1. Schedule time to read and respond to email and/or your internal messaging application (Teams, Slack, etc.) and close it when it’s not time to work on it. You might be freaking out right about now, but I’m telling you no one will even notice (Note: My coworkers probably will now if they are reading this :)). If you are feeling uncomfortable with this, try scheduling 6-8 blocks of time at first where you check/respond to email.  I read/respond to email three times per day.
  2. Turn off most, if not all, notifications on your smartphone, laptop, PC, and tablet. Again, you can start slow, but for goodness sake, turn off email, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter notifications.
  3. Leave your phone somewhere where you cannot see it. I work from home and leave mine in another room. This is using the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” to minimize urges to look at social media, email or messaging applications. 
  4. Unplug. Go for a walk to think. You don’t need to be sitting in front of your technology in order to come up with a creative solution to a problem. Ask yourself the questions you are trying to figure out while you walk. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how creative you will be. PS: Leave the headphones at home.
  5. Protect your schedule. Something I read in “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers will stick in my mind forever…”If it’s not a hell yeah, it’s a no”. Don’t blindly accept a meeting invite. Ask the organizer if you are truly necessary to the outcome. If you are critical, push back on the date and time if you already had something scheduled. 

I think I could probably go on about this topic for a lot longer, but I’ll stop here. Please stop and think about all the seemingly harmless distractions that you are allowing into your life. They are affecting your productivity. 

What could you be doing with that extra four hours per day?

PS. I help people stop overworking. I went from 80 hours a week to 30. I can help you do it too. It’s just a matter of reprogramming some inefficient work habits. Get to know me here.