You may think you can do everything right now, but you can't--and you shouldn't.
Many studies have shed light on the downside of multitasking--trying to juggle multiple tasks at one time. One often cited study from Stanford University found that people who multitask are more easily distracted, less productive, score lower on tests for recalling information, and make more errors.
The reason is quite simple: the brain is not designed to work on multiple initiatives at one time. So, instead of multitasking, you should focus on monotasking--where you focus on only one initiative at a time. This approach not only cuts down on silly mental errors, but can help unleash your creativity and production since you can funnel more attention and energy to the task at hand.
I admit it can be tough to monotask since we are bombarded everyday with so many distractions and interruptions, like e-mails, phone calls, social media notifications and breaking news! Plus, it seems that everything needs to be done as soon as possible.
But I have found that adopting more monotasking has made me more efficient (I don't have to work longer hours or at home), I make fewer mistakes, and I actually end up accomplishing more at the end of the work week.
How can you break the habit of multitasking? Much of it revolves around better time management and blocking distractions. I've found the following 8 strategies have helped me embrace more monotasking and keep me mindful of focusing only on the work I'm doing at any moment.
1. List your top two priorities for the day.
Start by making a list of your top priorities. Then identify your top two priorities for the day and make sure you accomplish them above all else. Giving the most important tasks your brain's prime time will help you be more attentive. I am old school in how I do this--I still use Post-Its--but I star one to three items that have to get done that day. This way I know what I can de-prioritize and only get to it if I find myself with extra time.
2. Block time on your calendar.
Create defined times during the day to complete your top two priorities as well as check and respond to e-mails. I have time blocked on my calendar to get these things done. The important part about blocking time is respecting it. Just because that time is blocked on your calendar for your own work does not mean you can compromise it by meeting with someone else who is begging for your time. It needs to be sacred to you.
3. Use Slack to work with your team.
Slack has truly changed my life. It has eliminated a huge amount of back-and-forth emails that were distracting or created more work. With Slack, everyone is able to collaborate, and other people can take care of work that needs to be done without me getting involved. It also eliminates the "cc" emails because I can go into Slack anytime and check on the work getting done and provide my input where necessary.
4. Use software to block social media.
I typically turn off notifications on my computer so that I don't get distracted. Need help? There is software that can block out designated sites for a specific period of time, such as Anti-Social, Cold Turkey, and Freedom.
5. Stop instantly responding to messages.
Sometimes I put my phone where I can't see it, or turn off the ringer and set to "do not disturb." Just because someone reaches out to you doesn't require you to respond immediately (unless it's a family emergency).
6. Close your eyes for two minutes.
If you lose focus or your mind wanders, set an alarm on your phone for two minutes and close your eyes. It will help settle you down and then the alarm will go off to let you know to get back to it.
7. Pace yourself by creating timed work and rest intervals.
Set a timer for five or 10 minutes and commit to focusing on your assignment for that amount of time. Afterwards, take a small break, like walking around or going outside for some fresh air, and then reset the timer for another five to 10 minutes. This back and forth between work and rest helps establish a rhythm where your brains knows when it's time to work and when it's time to rest.
8. Listen to music that energizes you or helps you focus.
Listening to classical music, nature sounds, or meditation music can help calm your mind and center your attention. For me, when I need to pick up my energy, I turn on rock, hip hop, or dance music to get my blood flowing and motivated to take on my next task.
In the fast-paced daily world of business, ping-ponging between tasks during the day has become the norm. But if you want to work better (and smarter) and see the results of your efforts then monotasking is the right approach. Remember it's not how much you do that matters, but rather how well you do it, and what you can actually say you accomplished at day's end.