Do you toggle between tasks throughout your workday, half completing one thing, getting interrupted, and beginning something else? We already discussed multitasking in my previous blog and its negative effects on performance and long-term memory. For many of us, multitasking is a bad habit that will take some work to get rid of.
In case you didn’t get a chance to read my previous blog, here’s a refresher: multitasking diminishes the part of your brain that forms “working memory” and long-term memory storage. This impedes your ability to retain information. Imagine sitting through an important meeting with your company’s stakeholders and not actually retaining what was said. This is bad business practice for any leader or executive. In short, you’re fooling yourself and everyone around you if you think you can multitask.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where multitasking is seen as a necessity to get everything done during our workday, and some actually consider it a badge of honor. Science shows that we need a shift in our approach away from multitasking. Here are some practical tips to avoid multitasking in order to have a more productive workday.
How To Break The Habit of Multitasking in 4 Simple Steps
It’s hard to break a habit. Unfortunately, multitasking is as much of a habit (to some of us) as brushing our teeth every morning. We don’t realize that we’re dividing our attention every time we check our phone during a meeting or listen to music while we answer emails. Here are some practical tips to get yourself out of the multitasking mindset.
- Time Block Your Work Day
Sometimes the urge to multitask can come from a place of overwhelm. Being underprepared when you start your workday can create a sense of anxiety about getting everything done in an 8-hour period of time. The phrase “fail to plan, plan to fail” is overused, but it rings true when it comes to multitasking.
One strategy to combat multitasking is creating a plan for your day in order to set yourself up for success. In my experience, this is best done through time blocking your daily schedule. Time blocking creates a sense of urgency to get a specific task done in a specific amount of time, which will require your undivided attention.
Block your calendar and indicate which projects you will be working on and when. If you’re able, you can mark these periods of time as “out of office” so people know not to schedule meetings during that time. Alternatively, you can communicate to your team that certain hours of the day are reserved for meetings, and other times are reserved for working on projects.
You don’t need to have your day planned out minute by minute, nor should you, as invariably some things will change during the day—so leave time to deal with the unexpected—but creating this structure is a helpful first step to break the habit of multitasking.
- Limit Distractions and Silence Excess Notifications
Leave off notifications for all of your messaging devices (you might think I’m kidding, but go watch the movie ‘The Social Dilemma’ and you’ll understand why I suggest this extreme). We live in a society where disruptions are commonplace, if not expected. In order to be truly efficient at work (whether remote or in-person), limiting distractions as much as possible is key to success.
If you’re using communication platforms like Slack, make sure to mute your notifications during meetings. Silence your phone and, if possible, leave it in another room or at your desk. These simple steps will ensure that your full attention is on the task at hand.
Limiting distractions can include opting out of email and text notifications on your tablet or laptop as well. You might not realize it, but that little notification at the top right of your screen can break your focus, even for an instant.
- Make Meetings More Impactful
Create a detailed plan, also known as an agenda, for your meetings so everyone stays focused and on track. Think through exactly what you want to accomplish before the meeting and craft the agenda accordingly. This shows not only a sense of organization but responsibility and respect for everyone’s time.
An issue that often plagues leaders is the ability to be concise. Don’t do in thirty minutes what you can do in twenty minutes…rarely do you need an hour for a meeting to make a decision. Running a business successfully is one thing—it’s a whole other thing to do so efficiently. It is possible to communicate efficiently and effectively at work if we proactively implement communication strategies for success. One of the ways to do this is to make sure your meetings are impactful.
In a recent article with YFS Magazine, I discussed why it is so important for leaders to consider what medium suits their message. With a variety of digital communication tools available to us, finding the correct medium is more important than ever.
- Switch To Instrumental Music Or, Preferably, No Music At All
Some people happily listen to music during their workday, but science shows that this can split your focus. In his book “This Is Your Brain On Music”, cognitive neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explores the emotion behind music and why it has such an effect on us. One of his main takeaways is that listening to music while you work makes you less productive (even if you’re having more fun).
One cognitive study indicates that people test worse on memory-related tasks while listening to music than if they had completed those tasks in silence. Music takes up your attentional capacity, making it impossible to give undivided attention to the task at hand. Even with this knowledge, many of us are unwilling to completely give up music at work. If you need background noise, switch to slower instrumental music (without words) or even white noise tracks. But the fact remains: it’s best to work in silence.
Why Do We Do It?
So why do employees multitask, given that we know it’s typically ineffective? Some report that they feel like they cannot successfully complete their workload in a 40-hour workweek, so doing multiple things simultaneously seems like the only answer. If we, as business leaders, are demanding that employees engage in a methodology that simply does not work, we are not leading them well or setting the future of our companies up for success.
Take the time to focus on the task at hand, not only to communicate value to your employees but to communicate value to the business itself. When you’re in a meeting, be present. If you are intentional about breaking this habit, you’ll find yourself more productive with a sharpened sense of focus, which will only help you achieve better business results. Believe it or not, if we avoid multitasking, we will actually get more things done at the end of the day or the end of the week because we remember what it is we were meant to do.