Working long and hard seems to be the norm in the modern world.  You’ve got multiple commitments to family, work, and yourself and none of them are independent.  You’re constantly juggling multiple tasks and projects at the same time.  So how do you respond?  You try to do as much as you can simultaneously, thinking it will help you get more done.  You can’t help yourself!  Your work and personal commitments follow you wherever you go and are accessible 24 hours a day. Portable devices like smartphones and tablets become a tether that you can’t release.  If you stay away from them too long they call to you and you invariably respond.  Eventually, you adopt bad habits: checking email while sitting in a meeting, responding to a text while engaged in conversation with those you care about (friend, spouse or child), or worse texting and driving? Productivity is a distant memory.

The consequence (assuming you don’t get in an accident) is you accomplish less and your productivity decreases.  When you divide your attention, you’re only partially engaged in each activity you’re trying to perform, but never fully engaged in any one.  When you constantly switch from task to task the time it takes to complete each task increases by about 25%.  Thus the presentation you need to prepare or the blog post you need to write, which should have taken an hour to complete, now takes you an hour and fifteen minutes.  If you multiply that by 5 tasks a day, that’s over an hour you’re wasting every day trying to finish multiple things at the same time.  The cost of not completing an activity before moving onto the next task, besides time lost, is that your energy continues to decline throughout the day.  You become overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious as you rapidly switch between tasks and the effort that you can apply to any one task at the end of the day is much less then when you started your day.

To get off the multitasking treadmill, try making a few changes:

  1. Use a Timer –  For tasks that require true concentration, remove all distractions like cell phones, email alerts, and the internet (you can use blocking software).  Set a timer for 45-60 minutes and only work on that one task.  Knowing that you have a stopping point should help you to avoid the impulse to reach for those distractions.  You’ll get much more completed then if you spend 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there.  You may even finish the task and can check it off your list.
  2. Do Your Most Important Task When Your Energy Is Highest – For most of you this is first thing in the morning.  However, there are a few of you who need a few more hours to really get going.  Determine where your peak energy levels land and attack your most important task at that time.  If you use a timer and remove distractions you’ll be operating at peak productivity.
  3. Take Regular Scheduled BreaksImaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become quite active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information and make connections between ideas.  So if you want to present your best work rather than “just get it done” and move onto the next thing, take a break.
  4. Plan Processing Time – According to time management expert, Dave Crenshaw, processing time is defined as, “the act of deciding WHAT the next step is, WHEN it will be done, and WHERE an item’s home is.”  If you constantly process on the fly, rather than designate a planned daily or weekly processing time, your thoughts will always be wandering to the tasks not yet done.  Those wasted minutes as your focus switches to what to work on next will add up over time.  Instead of spending 30 minutes a day doing planned processing, you could be wasting hours each week as you randomly switch from task to task or try to do them simultaneously.

Photo Credit: Multitasking Infographic by