Learn the art of the un-multitask


The nature of the world today requires us to acquire skills that we perhaps didn’t need to master in years gone by. Technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time and from anywhere and because of this, we all think we are brilliant multitaskers.

This is not the case at all. The hard truth is, most people are terrible at multitasking. Our brains are not wired to focus on more than one task at a time. Neuroscientists have proven that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing, but what we can do is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.

Switching from task to task does not make you a multitasker. When you are doing this, even though you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you, you’re actually not. Attempting to multitask and trying to focus on two projects at once usually means having to re-do work, losing your thought process, and sometimes thinking you are done with a project, only to realise that you have forgotten a critical element. If this is you, we suggest you re-evaluate your working habits.

Here are five tips to become more efficient and forget about multitasking altogether.

Make a list of tasks and don’t be afraid to say no

Take five minutes in the morning to look at what you need to accomplish for the day and prioritise your tasks. This allows you to know exactly what you need to accomplish and how much time you have for smaller or unexpected tasks. It also lets you manage your time. When a colleague needs help, you can now confidently tell them, “I cannot complete that by the end of the day, but I can have it to you tomorrow by noon.” It helps you establish deadlines and set expectations with your team.

Focus on one task at a time

If you have five projects you need to work on, block off time for each project and focus on doing one thing at a time. Use the list you created to prioritise what needs to be done first. Do not move on from one project to the next until your first project is complete.

Put down the technology/distractions

Technology is a huge asset, it allows us to work any and everywhere, but it can also be a massive distraction. When focusing on a project, close your email. Turn off your phone (or put it on silent), put away the tablets, turn off notifications, close your door if need be, and put away anything that can distract you. You’d be amazed at how much of a time-waster your technology can be.

Set up time to check your email

Email is one of most people’s biggest struggles when trying to focus. Most of us like to keep our inboxes low and to get back to people quickly (these days that seems to be expected). Blocking out time to work on emails will be a huge help to you. Try to deal with your inbox first thing when you start the work day, go back to it again after lunch and then finally – check it again right before the end of the day. Having time dedicated only to email will help you not feel like you need to drop everything and answer right away.

Be present

This is hard. We all have tasks we need to complete and it feels like there’s never enough time. But be present with what you are working on and be present when working with others. This means not sitting in a meeting checking emails, responding to WhatsApp’s or doing other tasks. Have you ever been on a conference call and were asked to repeat a question you asked? You know the other person’s attention was elsewhere and they were not focusing on the call.

In the long run, taking the time to slow down can help you speed up your deadlines and allow you to put out the best product or service. If you still think you are the exception and can multitask like a pro, think about writing an email and talking on the phone at the same time. Those things are nearly impossible to do at the same time; you cannot focus on one while doing the other. Even if you think you have mastered the art of multitasking, try do this and you will find that this tiny test might surprise you and that your multitasking skills might not be what you think they are. Why not learn the art of how to be a non-multitasker and focus more on doing one thing well at a time.