You are answering an email, but remembered you have to check a Facebook event you sent out. You leave the email open, go to your Facebook–and then your phone rings. You answer. During your phone conversation, you jump to New York Times online, scan headlines, and post a link to your friend’s Facebook wall. You still haven’t answered that email. You are in the middle of three open projects on your desk. You have 18 tabs open on your Internet browser. And you are watching TV. You have strayed so far from your “to-do” list your head is spinning.
But it’s OK–you’re “multi-tasking,” right?
I’ve been observing a lot at my workplace lately, and one of the key things I notice is the downfalls of multitasking. I did a quick search and came across the book The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done, by Dave Henshaw. He argues that employees are actually “switch tasking,” not “multitasking.”
Our brain does not handle multiple tasks at once, says Henshaw, and there is time lost between the constant switching of tasks. We are losing time owed to a particular task with interruptions by coworkers, distractions from new technologies, paying less attention to colleagues when they are speaking, all while juggling home and work.
Think about it.
If you pull your brain in multiple directions, how can you gather enough focus to finish one task? How much quicker could you finish a task if you didn’t have to keep revisiting it and adjusting to where you left off? If you are sitting in a lecture hall, with your laptop open on Facebook, how much information can you really absorb? How much note taking gets done?
I’ve heard people tout how well they can multitask, but I think it’s inefficient and sloppy.
How to Avoid Multitasking
- Get started early. I find I get the most done at work in the morning, before things start swinging. No phones, no meetings, no interruptions. Same goes for school.
- Plan out the tasks you must get accomplished, with the most urgent items at the top. Estimate how long each will take you and block out chunks of time.
- Check your personal email, Facebook, etc. before work, homework, writing a paper, or whatever task you are starting. Turn them off while working, if you can.
- I also recommend not having bookmarks in your browser for sites such as Facebook, YouTube, or others that could easily eat a lot of your time. I find I’m more likely to click them if I see them in my toolbar than if I have to manually type them in.
- If a new task arrives on your plate, evaluate where it fits on your already established to-do list and put it aside. If you do have to switch tasks, make a note about what you are working on, where you left off and what still needs to be accomplished
- At the end of the day, try and close all windows, tabs, documents, pdfs and anything else that you may feel tempted to leave open for tomorrow. I find that this helps me feel like I’m starting the next day with a clean slate.
- Don’t be so rigid that your day or week doesn’t allow for flexibility. The point of this is to ease your stress level and the amount of work you are doing.
Of course a certain amount of juggling tasks is necessary. We will at times have to jump from project to project, and unfortunately some jobs demand this more than others. But the main point I’m trying to make is: Be conscious about what you are working on, focus your thoughts on the task at hand, and you will be more productive.
Cassie is a May 2009 University of Wisconsin-Madison Ag Journalism graduate. She recently joined SPARK Advertising in Neenah, Wis. as a public relations specialist. Find Cassie on Twitter, BrazenCareerist, and LinkedIn.