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Tuesday, 11 November 2014 16:58

Too Much of a Good Thing: When Multitasking Goes Sour

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With the frenetic pace of today’s business world, it’s nearly impossible not to do more than one thing at a time. In fact, we’re told that this is the better way to be. Between the many articles about the perfect time management tips, life-hacking ideas and huge ways to save time – time seems to be all that anyone can think about and yet something no one has enough of. Small business owners can feel this crunch especially hard. How else are you going to do all that needs to be done to keep your business running if you’re not balancing every spinning plate at once?

But does multitasking actually make you more efficient? Current research says no. A 2010 report in the journal Science revealed that the human brain can handle only two tasks at once because it divides the responsibility between its two frontal lobes. If a third task is added, the brain gets overwhelmed and starts making errors. Additionally, multitasking over a long period of time can have lasting effects on your ability to work effectively. According to a recent study, Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers, chronic multitaskers have problems with filtering information, memory management, and task switching – all necessary talents for an effective business leader.

Not only that, but multitasking has been proven to have negative impacts on workplace performance. Multitaskers are actually 40% less productive and take 50% longer to finish a task. And the work they do complete tends to be of a lower quality, as they produce 50% more errors. Perhaps the most alarming fact for the cash-strapped entrepreneur shows that multitasking costs the global economy a whopping $450 billion per year.

So what can you and your employees do to reduce the negative effects of too much multitasking? Well, the obvious answer is to stop multitasking. But in today’s information-saturated, communication-centric world, that’s easier said than done. So here are a few strategies to help you focus on one task at a time.

The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method invented by productivity consultant Francesco Cirillo. The idea is simple: commit yourself to a 25-minute session of uninterrupted work on a single task. Close your email. Put away your phone. If someone comes by your desk, ask them to send you an email that you can check later. Don’t let anything distract you until the end of the session.  

By focusing your attention on single task for an extended period of time, you will both boost your productivity and lower your stress. You won’t be worried about other tasks you need to get done because for those 25 minutes, your only task is the one before you. The Pomorodo Technique also has the added benefit of helping you organize your day. By segmenting your day into numerous “Pomodoros”, you develop a much clearer image of how much you can get done in a day.

You can purchase a physical Pomodoro timer to time your 25-minute sessions, or invest in a Pomodoro app, available for iPhone and Android. As a small business owner, you can also encourage your employees to try the technique and implement rules on not distracting coworkers during sessions.

Make It Zen
Practicing mindfulness is increasingly being touted as the solution to our over-tasked culture. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, describes this kind of mindfulness as “nonjudgmental attention to the experiences of the present moment.” And here’s the thing: it’s effective. A recent study looked at how knowledge workers dealt with being assigned multiple tasks in a short amount of time. Those trained in mindfulness were better able to focus on the tasks and remember pertinent details. In short, they were better at juggling multiple tasks.

So how can you be mindful? Try to focus your attention on the present moment and be open to your current experiences. Stop worrying about next week’s meeting and focus instead on the email you’re writing. Once you’ve accepted your most difficult and tedious tasks, your mind will have a much easier time getting through it. 

Keep An Active To-Do List
It may seem obvious, but the importance of a well-maintained to-do list cannot be overstated. It will both help you remember to complete all your tasks, and keep you from switching between objectives while you’re hard at work. If you think of something that needs to be done – say an email or an errand – just jot it down on the to-do list rather than breaking away from your current task.

You can also organize your to-do list to maximize your productivity. Put your most pressing tasks at the top of the list and then continue by descending priority. This will ensure that your most important items get completed first. Or you can group your to-do list by type or location (for example, divide your tasks between those that need to be completed by yourself and those that involve in-person interactions, or those that involve your computer and those that don’t). This can help you complete related tasks in one single swoop.

Regardless of how you organize it, an active to-do list decreases multitasking and increases productivity by allowing you to focus on each task individually. 

Though multitasking may always prove tempting, it is detrimental to your productivity and the health of your company. By managing your time, sectioning off tasks, and putting your head down for uninterrupted sessions, you’ll be able to get work done more efficiently and with better results.

About the Author: Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Journyx strives to be relentlessly creative and to build tools that help you spend your time on things that matter. After all, time is all we have. Founded in 1996, Journyx offers customers two solutions to reach the highest levels of profitability: Journyx – project, time and expense tracking software – and Journyx PX – resource management software that provides work and financial forecasting for a complete picture of project and budget status, employee time and availability.Connect with Curt on Google+
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Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Founded in 1996, Journyx automates payroll, billing and cost accounting while easing management of employee time and expenses, and provides confidence that all resources are utilized correctly and completely. Curt can be found on Twitter at @CurtFinch and on Google+ at +CurtFinch.

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