Here’s Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work — And What You Should Be Doing Instead
July 18, 2019
Maximize your productivity without losing focus.
Welcome to summer! To barbecues, S’mores, and enjoying time outdoors with friends. This month I want to share some hacks to help you create the time to do those things you love.
Think about the taste of chocolate (that rich, satisfying flavor melting on your tongue). Now–while thinking of that sensation–add 47 and 56.
How did you do? (The answer is 103). You could probably switch quickly between adding and imagining but I’m pretty sure you couldn’t do them both simultaneously. You probably multi-tasked: switched back and forth between the two.
We are living in a time when multi-tasking seems like a survival mechanism and an efficiency tool to get you through the day. But that’s plain wrong. Multi-tasking actually kills your productivity. For 98% of us, multitasking decreases productivity by up to 40%. It leaves you feeling greater fatigue, an inner sense of chaos and greater disappointment with your output and ability to quickly remember things.
Multi-tasking falls under the Fifth Essential Element called Time & Place. It’s one of the most difficult yet important essential elements to master. My last newsletter gave insight on how to measure your success; this newsletter is about how to get there.
So if we can only focus on one thing at a time and its common knowledge that work expands to fill the time we give it, where do we go next? Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Do the hardest thing first.
Chances are that you are most clear, focused and energized early in the day. So why not begin your day with a ‘big win’. Ask yourself: “If I only accomplish one thing today what would make me feel most successful?” Don’t put off the big wins–which require the energy and focus we simply don’t have later in the day. Save the low hanging fruit activities like checking email, returning a call, paying bills, to the time when your energy and focus tends to wane. Do the hardest thing first. In fact, take a moment the night before to figure out what that one thing is.
2. Play offense instead of defense.
Schedule activities that are important to you before others can impose on your priorities. Block out important things like exercise, strategic thinking, being present with your family and the like. If you are concerned about having a shared calendar call those blocks anything you like–but play offense and commit to investing your time in the things that matter most.
3. Learn how to Timebox.
Ranked the number one most effective productivity hack, timeboxing is the practice of allotting a specific, maximum amount of time to complete a task. Assign a fixed period of time to a task, schedule it, and stick to it. At first it will be difficult to estimate how much time a task takes, but you’ll improve as you begin to flex this muscle.
4. Start your day in Zen mode.
A daily grounding ritual like meditating for a few minutes, when practiced with regularity, will help increase your concentration and working memory. The simple act of brewing tea is my daily grounding ritual. It leaves me with a sense of clarity and equanimity as I head into my day and takes only about 10 minutes.
5. Disconnect to reconnect.
Do you feel bombarded by a daily influx of emails you delete, delete, delete? Try taking yourself off all non-essential lists. Be diligent in this exercise and you’ll feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Curate your inbox so that emails are almost all related an action you need to take, work you need to coordinate or a relationship you want to cultivate.
Each day you can ask yourself: “What choices can I make that maximize my ability to be at my best?” The Fifth Essential Element, Time & Place, requires you to be selective and deliberate in where and how you spend your precious time. Although it often doesn’t feel this way, you have the power to prioritize activities and work that adds value to your life, and when you do you’ll be happier for it.
This month I challenge you to curate your day with intention, to be mercenary with your inbox, and prioritize activities, no matter how simple, that bring you closer to what brings you joy.
This post originally appeared on Barbara Waxman’s blog.
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