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Want To Get More Done? Focus!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Modern workers might find it hard to believe that multitasking is a relatively new idea.

For most of us, the need to accomplish many things at once seems like a given. But, the concept of multitasking didn’t crop up in the workplace until around the time that every desk got a computer.

Our computers (and our cell phones) are one-stop shops for communication, research, word processing—you name it. These machines have become so central to our lives that it makes sense we have come to see ourselves in their image. If our computers can juggle three or four things at once, well, so can we.

Or can we?

The Myth Of Multitasking

In 2009, researchers at Stanford University set out to investigate what makes multitaskers special. The surprising result? The people who considered themselves talented multitaskers were consistently outperformed by their less confident counterparts.

People multitask because they want to be productive. But many scientists think of multitasking as a process of constant self-interruption. You might feel more efficient as you juggle tasks, but studies suggest that multitasking actually slows you down.

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that office workers took an average of 25 minutes to recover from a simple distraction like a phone call. And researchers at the University of Michigan found that switching between tasks actually slows our thinking.

Selective Multitasking

In a perfect world, we would all downgrade to single-tasking, otherwise known as taking one thing at a time. But for most business owners, doing one thing at a time is unrealistic.

The next-best thing is selective multitasking. Limit multitasking to straightforward activities that won’t compete for your mental resources. Then try to focus on a single task whenever your work seems more involved.

It’s OK to multitask when you’re taking care of mindless tasks like organizing paperwork or browsing the Web. Switch to single-tasking when you’re doing work that requires active thought. Same goes if you’re trying to learn a skill or remember a fact.

Alternatives To Multitasking

To break the multitasking habit and boost your productivity, try these effective alternatives.
  • Since it takes time for your brain to switch gears as you move from one type of task to another, you’ll save time if you group similar activities in batches. Make phone calls all at once. Handle your e-mails in bulk.
  • Reduce mental clutter by using tools like calendars, to-do lists, personal digital assistants and organizers as external brains.
  • Maintain focus by using little reminders. Each morning, choose one (or two or three) tasks or projects that need your attention that day. Make a note of each priority to post somewhere obvious. This simple system will help you stay on task as you’re interrupted throughout the day.

For More Information
Learn to focus on the task at hand. The NASE special report “Multitasking Might Harm Your Health (And Your Business)” offers tactics and techniques you and your employees can use.

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