In this age of instant access information, always available entertainment and bottom line obsessed business our time, energy and focus is always at a premium. It seems to be a common and accepted part of life that we need to multitask to keep on top of it all. The only problem is we aren’t actually very good at it…

Why is multitasking bad?
There has been a lot of research done into multitasking and it is unanimously agreed that the brainsimply isn’t very good at spreading its energy between different things. Just because you canmultitask, it doesn’t mean you are doing it efficiently or not straining your brain in the process (just because your poxy little car can drive through a muddy field, doesn’t mean you should be taking it into one everyday). Sorry ladies, but though the stats suggest you are better than men at multitasking, you still aren’t very good at it.

It can take on average around twenty minutes to get your mind focused on the task in hand. Start trying to do two things at once and that number will increase dramatically. What’s more, once you get distracted from your work and break that focus, you basically have to start the whole process again (Eric Horvitz and the University of Illinois found that it took their test group of Microsoft workers on average fifteen minutes to regain focus on their tasks). Hardly good time management is it? It usually ends up being quicker to do one task at a time.

The other problem with multitasking is it increases your chances of making a mistake and just generally being more sloppy with your work. With all your attention split up and the increased difficulty and time it takes to gain any real focus on what you’re doing, it can be so easy to let a mistake or two slip through.

How can I stop doing it?
Wasted time, headaches, stress, loss of focus… not sounding good is it? As we primarily multitask because of the amount of (perceived) work we have to deal with in our lives, the following tips show how you can begin to regain control of your workflow so that multitasking becomes merely an option in exceptional circumstances rather than the norm.

  • Break the work down
    If you are a regular reader of this blog you will no doubt know how much of an advocate I am with regards breaking your work down into manageable bitesize chunks. If you are able to do a task that takes less effort and time to do, you will get it finished before that desire to start doing other stuff or play around with your inbox builds up. It also means that it will take less time for your brain to really focus in because you are not put off by the size of the work you have to do.
  • Clear up your schedule
    Over the last couple of decades there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of stuff we have to deal with, whether it be the extra workload dumped on your desk at an understaffed company, or simply all the media bombardment you get at home. However, there is a lot we can do to trim it all back, ranging from simply saying no when someone comes to you with more work to knowing what you honestly like to do and cutting back on stuff you’re not interested in. Focus right down to the stuff that really matters and faze the rest out. Use my prioritizing system to figure out what you really need to do, over what you just want to do. You can’t usually trim the amount of work you have overnight but stick with it. Actively working to bring it down will yield results.
  • Cut out distractions
    It’s one thing to have your focus broken because you are trying to get some constructive work on two or more tasks done, but a lot of the time we get distracted by minor things like phonecalls, emails and social networking sites. Turn off reminders, close your browser, unplug the phone if necessary. Schedule time to deal with those tasks outside of the rest of your work. You could perhaps check your emails in the morning only and chase up phone calls every hour, for instance.
  • Finish one task before moving to another
    Get the project done, wound up and off your mind before you move to another. Without that clear cutoff point it’s all too easy to slip into another task with the old one still on your radar. Knowing exactly what you need to do to declare a task as done will also help when it comes to managing your time and planning out your workflow because you will have a much clearer picture of how long the project will take to complete.

Implementing the above suggestions will leave you with more time so you can then spread out your workflow evenly. No more overlapping of tasks or having to rush to complete them. Nowadays, I’ve stripped out as much as possible leaving me primarily with just the work I need to do. Because I also break it down I can then plan it so that it’s all evenly spread out throughout the week. I’m not rushing around on any particular day and can focus on one bitesize task at a time.