I'm sure I'm not the only one who has gone through this cycle more times than I can count: while you're working on an important brief, your phone rings. As you sigh and reach to pick it up, a knock on your office door indicates someone is trying to grab your attention. You wave them away and focus on the voice speed-talking through your phone, while distractedly scanning your emails. Meeting in 10 minutes. Great.
Navigating through a busy work schedule where you're constantly doing 4 things at once is stressful and leaves you stripped of all your energy when you get home at night. Multitasking is actually one of the hardest skills to obtain since it forces your brain to focus on multiple tasks at once. Many even claim multitasking is virtually impossible.
A study conducted at Stanford University found that people who are bombarded with several streams of electronic information on a regular basis cannot pay attention or process information as well as those who tackle one task at a time.
Now that we've established multitasking is inefficient and makes you crazy, how can you get your job done while being distracted by something at least 100 times a day?
1. Act like you're out of office.
Who doesn't love the feeling of putting an out of office message in your emails before leaving for a two-week vacation? Who says you can't treat yourself to that feeling while working from your office as well? If you plan on doing calls for the next two hours or you have to focus on a particularly challenging writing task, set up an out of office message in your email program.
This way, your clients and peers will be notified of your absence (aka desire to work without distraction) as opposed to not getting a reply at all. Plus, it saves you the hassle of sending back emails saying that you don't have time.
2. Work in Blocks.
Practice your OCD. When planning your day, don't just write a to-do list. Actually plan time frames for everything you do. That way, you will be less likely to steer away from your actual schedule. The clock will work against you, so you will feel more pressured to finish every single task in time. This pressure forces you to work efficiently and in a timely manner.
However, you might need to practice to accurately estimate how much time you need to finish the tasks at hand. Naturally, it's not always possible to plan every single minute of the day and unforeseen things happen, but a rough outline will help you stay organized.
3. Multitask, don't every task.
Just because you're doing multiple things at once doesn't mean you have to do everything. You still need to be able to filter out what is and isn't important or there will be more amount of multitasking that can help you catch up.
The Stanford study claims that regular multitaskers are actually worse at it than those who normally don't multitask. The reason lies in the fact that they have more trouble filtering out what's important and organizing themselves to finish tasks efficiently.
4. Create your perfect workspace.
You remember those times in college when you had to study for finals, write six assignments and prepare a presentation? We all found a million reasons to procrastinate. We were thirsty, hungry, we got a message, our dog needed petting. Now that it's actually crucial we achieve something every single day, make sure to rid yourself of all reasons to get distracted.
Create your perfect workspace. Before starting a task that you know will need 100 percent of your attention and brain power, prepare a glass of water, a light snack, have your laptop on full battery, make sure you sit in a comfortable chair... You know what I mean. These things matter more than we realize. Your body and mind need to feel comfortable for you to be able to concentrate on the task before you.