More than 2,000 years ago, the Roman writer Publilius Syrus wrote, “To do two things at once is to do neither.” We think of multitasking as a symptom of our always-connected, fast-paced modern world, but apparently the ancients were also prone to juggling too many tasks at once.
Not having enough time in the day for all our priorities is a complaint most of us share. It’s four hours into the work day, and you’ve only crossed off two things off your list. Why not answer emails while on a phone call or listen to your voicemails while going over invoices? When you get home, you may try to cram in a little more work by going over tomorrow’s manifest while eating dinner with loved ones. And sure, sometimes all of this double duty works out OK, but for the most part, multitasking results in more mistakes, less thoughtful focus, and sometimes, failure at both or several tasks.
“Multitasking leads to as much as 40 percent drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10 percent drop in IQ.” – Harvard Business ReviewWe all like to believe we can multitask; however, research tells us otherwise. A recent Harvard Business Review post said, “Multitasking leads to as much as 40 percent drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10 percent drop in IQ.” Another study documented on onlinecollege.org shows that only 2 percent of people can multitask effectively, leaving 98 percent of us who are actually decreasing our productivity when we try to do two things at once.
So how do we get it all done? By following the steps below, you can harness your inner focus and give your mind the ability to concentrate fully on one project at a time. But FIRST ...
Focus your attention on the project at hand. By setting time aside on your calendar to complete projects, just as you set aside time to attend meetings, you are giving yourself a schedule that will help focus your attention on the one task you need to accomplish.
Improve your focus. There always will be multiple interruptions, phone calls, and knocks on the door, so while you are planning to completely focus on a task at hand, people around you might have other plans for you. Improve your focus by letting the phone go to voicemail, putting a sign on your office door or cubicle wall that states you are busy until 3:00 pm, or finding a quiet conference room or offsite location so your interruptions are greatly reduced.
Resist the urge to switch to another project when a thought appears or check email when you are stuck. Switching is an easy way to distract yourself—and often for long periods of time. A Health.com article reported that when University of California, Irvine researchers “measured the heart rates of employees with and without constant access to office email, they found that those who received a steady stream of messages stayed in a perpetual ‘high alert’ mode with higher heart rates. Those without constant email access did less multitasking and were less stressed because of it.” If your email is configured to show an alert on your screen when you get a new message, turn it off unless you are waiting for something urgent.
“We think of multitasking as a symptom of our always-connected, paced modern world...”Success! Success in completing a task or project will come sooner than you think when you focus and resist the urge to multitask.
Tackle the rest of your to-do list, knowing that when you focus, you’ll have the chance to get more done ... and with fewer errors, more concentration, and less stress!
My challenge to you is to try this method of working on the next big project or task that takes tremendous focus. It won’t always be easy, but you will find that by remembering “But FIRST...” your work product will increase, while your stress level decreases.
Christina Fiorenza is the HR director for the LMC Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.