As I came back to work this morning after the long weekend, I faced a mountain of things to do. Where to start? Maybe I could manage to do more than one task at a time. You know, answer the email while I am listening to an online class, or trying to straighten the studio while I am making a phone call and quickly check the calendar to see if an appointment is scheduled. Quite the picture, isn’t it?
Yes, I am talking about multitasking and it does not work! According to Harvard Business Review blogger Paul Atchley, studies show that multitaskers are less efficient, perhaps by as much as 40%, than they think. He says that it takes an average of 15 minutes – and I have read numbers as high as 40 minutes – to reorient oneself to the main task. Wow – 15 minutes! Can you imagine how much time you waste on a daily basis trying to get back to the task at hand?
If you want to break your multitasking habit, here are four tips:
- Focus on one task at a time. Atchley says our attention starts to wane after 18 minutes. He suggests that if that happens and you switch to a different task, make notes about the first task so it is easier when you go back. I think that if your attention wanes, it might be time for a quick stretch and then quickly re-focus on the same task.
- Since I mentioned focusing on a task, be sure to divide your project into doable tasks. Set a timer for the task. I find it easier to focus if I have specifically set the time aside. You can find an online timer or use your iPhone alarm.
- Eliminate distractions. This could be closing the door to your studio, letting the answering machine pick up the calls, stopping the audible tones of your e-mail. What is key is paying attention – again focus – to your task.
- Stick with it until it is done and done right.
And, if you think multitasking is only a problem today, here is a good quote from Lord Chesterton, attributed to a letter to his son in the 1740s:
“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day if you do but one thing at once;
but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.”
Good luck single-tasking.