There are always a bunch of things going on in anyone’s life. For example, a student might have to prepare for his exams, complete his project work, practice for some competition, attend some extra coaching classes all at the same time. And the complexity and number of simultaneous tasks to be performed just increase when you go up the work hierarchy.
A common solution is to use your multitasking skills and complete everything simultaneously. Multitasking is a necessary skill for many roles. However, it can also be detrimental to efficiency and mental performance whilst at work. If multitasking is done right, it can be a great way to get a number of tasks done simultaneously, but if you end up taking on too much at one time it can lead to anxiety from poor decision making.
Afterall, our brain isn’t built to handle more than one thing at once. It gets tired, overwhelmed, and we find ourselves making mistakes. But there are ways to prevent it, and they start with following the 7 tips below so that you can boost those multitasking skills.
What is Multitasking?
Multitasking, to most people, is the act of juggling two or more tasks or activities at the same time. That definition, however, is technically wrong. The human brain cannot effectively focus on more than one item/task at a time – therefore, when someone is multitasking, they are actually switching focus between tasks so quickly that it presents itself as working on multiple things simultaneously.
Regardless of technical definition, one’s ability to effectively multitask continues to be an essential core competency. A common enough question during interviews is to ask for ‘examples of a time’ the potential employee has shown strength in this area. Multitasking can take many forms, including:
- Managing several social media accounts
- Listening to music while exercising
- Cooking dinner while talking on the phone
- Holding a conversation while driving
- Preparing multiple orders at once
- Answering phone calls and emails simultaneously
- Prioritizing emails to respond to in a customer service setting
- Signing for a delivery while helping a customer
- Serving drinks and presenting checks as a server
There are obviously many examples of multitasking skills – many in your day-to-day life, and many of the simplest of tasks you perform at your place of work.
7 Tips to do Multitasking Effectively:
1. Accept your limits
The first and the foremost thing to do multitasking effectively is to know your limits, accept it and be realistic.
Taking on too much at once can cause unnecessary stress and worry. At work, we often overload ourselves with all of the tasks we need to complete each day or week when it’s better to separate these out into bite-sized chunks that are easier to work through.
You can’t expect to do just everything at a time because there are always constraint of time, resources and priorities. So, rather than feeling defeated when you aren’t able to complete your mammoth to-do list, be sure to set yourself achievable goals.
2. Learn to concentrate
Concentration is fundamental to multitasking. Productive people focus entirely on what they are doing in each given moment, then switch tasks. If it sounds difficult to you, here are some suggestions on how to accomplish it:
- Work on your willpower: Procrastination can make you waste time between assignments, especially if you don’t have a deadline coming soon. Make sure you know the importance of what you are doing, even if you need to set reminders on your phone.
- Try some meditation: Meditation is known for its ability to improve focus. There are several apps with great suggestions that can help you with it so that you won’t be bored – staying in silence in a dark room while paying attention to your breath is just one of its techniques.
- Take notes (or doodle): Specialists also suggest that engaging in handwriting activity during work can help you to stay on the right track. Some people take notes, others doodle. Pick your favorite.
3. Give yourself enough time to complete your goals
It is important to recognise how long it will take you to complete a task to the best possible standard. Multitasking can cause unnecessary stress if you are doing too much at once, and not giving yourself enough time to finish your tasks. Be sure to set realistic time frames, if you aren’t and you deliver late then it will only cause you more stress in the future.
Having a strict time frame to complete a particular task is crucial for multitasking. However, the time frame must be reasonable and in alignment with the work to be performed. There is no way in which you can do a three day work in just one day. You surely can reduce time by minimizing unproductive work. Therefore have a realistic time frame for your work.
4. Work in blocks of time
You might have heard that multitasking skills are a myth, that no one can do more than one task at the same time. Even though this isn’t entirely true (depending on what you call a task), the point here is being able to switch assignments. And you can achieve it by grouping your tasks and getting them done through separate blocks of time.
For instance, adopt the Pomodoro Technique. It suggests that you work in 25-minute blocks, then take a short break after each block, followed by a longer break after every 4 blocks. However, this might not work for you if it forces you to stop at a critical stage.
The idea works because it’s easier to concentrate for 30 minutes than 1 hour. You just need to figure out the best time length for your project.
5. Work on related tasks together
Sometimes, you don’t have to switch assignments. You can work on more than one simultaneously if they are related. Working on completely different tasks at the same time is sure to cause confusion. Make sure that when you are planning out your working week that you are grouping similar tasks together, as it will be easier to switch between the two and meet your deadlines at similar times.
- All research can be dealt with at once
- Hold a meeting to discuss several topics
- Prepare a single presentation to apply for a loan that will fund more than one project
It won’t always be so simple. You will need to look for other ways to group your tasks, such as carrying out all duties delegated to the same employee, or managing issues based on location, type of product, and so on.
In any case, this approach has the extra advantage of presenting you the big picture so that you can transfer knowledge from one project to another.
6. Distinguish urgent from important
A flawless to-do list is one of the keys to good multitasking. And the secret behind it is a thorough understanding of the differences between urgent (tight deadlines) and important (long-term sustainability) matters.
For instance, try applying the Eisenhower’s Principle. It says you should prioritize your tasks in the following sequence:
- Important and urgent;
- Important but not urgent;
- Not important but urgent;
- Not important and not urgent.
Prioritising ensures that you are delivering high priority tasks on time, and allows you to manage the expectations of the business when you have something important that you need to clear your deck for.
The importance of the assignment sets the tone of your to-do-list, not the urgency. However, it doesn’t mean you must do your tasks always in this order. Some people use level 3 and 4 to create “breaks” between more relevant issues.
7. Plan ahead
After you have prioritised your tasks, you can begin to map out your schedule for each day of the week. This will put a plan in place for the tasks that you will be managing each day, and allow you to identify whether there are any days that you can work on top priority tasks on their own. Allocating yourself this time to focus, will help you to multitask more efficiently throughout the week.
Once you become more confident in your ability to multitask, start planning your day ahead – either first thing on Monday morning, or last thing on Friday afternoon. You will then realize the following about most of your tasks:
- They repeat at regular intervals
- Some require more concentration than others
- Many of them relate to each other
This understanding will help you to switch assignments, offering the information you need to become better organized. Once you reach this stage, consider creating to-do lists one, two, three weeks beforehand – only remember to allocate time to attend last-minute requests. Soon, you will have monthly and annual calendars ready to make your days much more manageable.
The Downside of Multitasking
The assertion that using multitasking skills at work leads to higher productivity has been challenged many times, often being called a myth. While in some instances that may be the case, if you aren’t using your multitasking skills efficiently, there are many possible downsides.
- Split focus: if you’re working on more than one different task, the brain will be unable to devote all of its attention to any of them. This inevitably will result in errors being made, but could also lead to rework or longer time needed to complete just a single task.
- Partial attention: similar to split focus, if you haven’t honed your multitasking skills, trying to do more than one task at a time can lead to skimming incoming information. This too leads to missed data or inaccurately processed information, which of course leads to errors.
- Not prioritizing: one of the most important multitasking skills is the ability to prioritize tasks which is essential in remaining productive. If you aren’t prioritizing, you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re attempting to do, and you likely won’t be able to effectively complete multiple tasks within the same time period.
- Burnout: trying to do too many tasks at once can actually diminish your cognitive abilities. If you’re doing too much, you can get burned out – which results in diminished quality for all the tasks you’re attempting to complete and ultimately physical and / or mental exhaustion.
While there are potential cons to multitasking, most of them stem from using your multitasking skills inefficiently. This means that, the better you get at managing these skills, the less likely you’ll encounter the negatives.
Efficient multitasking can be easily achieved if you understand its true meaning. You will be able to deal with more than one project as long as you aren’t trying to complete tasks at the same time. You should also count on online tools to enhance your capabilities and automate repetitive activities.
Finally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Like any other skill, multitasking is something you develop over time. Build it up step by step and learn from your mistakes. You will notice the positive results sooner than you expect.