It used to be a general belief that multi-tasking is a much sought-after skill only few people honed throughout their lives. By definition, multi-tasking is the ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time; that is a process which – as it turns out – is not only counterproductive, since people are generally not good at it, but also damages the brain.
Indeed, research conducted by the University of London proved that when performing multiple cognitive tasks simultaneously, people showed a drop in their IQ up to 15 points, with some reaching the cognitive capacity levels of an 8-year-old. If that kind of damage isn’t enough, research from the University of Sussex in the UK shows that some decrease in cognitive capacity might be permanent as well.
Given all this, multitasking is a habit that you might want to keep at bay on the grounds that it slows you down in terms of work productivity and causes damage to your brain that could prove to be permanent. With that having being said, there’s clearly something that doesn’t fit. What happens with all those careers that require multi-tasking up to a certain extent? How can people who follow such career paths find the golden line between high performance, functioning cognitive capacity and intact mental health? It may not be as hard as you think.
The Pomodoro or “Batch Processing” Technique
First and foremost, familiarise yourself with the “batch processing” concept. Spend 25 minutes focusing on an important task to the exclusion of everything else. Set a timer and do nothing but this task until the timer goes off. Establish certain times throughout the day to read and answer emails (possibly the greatest time user), make business phone calls and speak to colleagues. Be disciplined and do not carry out any of these activities at any other time. Turn your phone off or at least turn it over so you don’t get distracted by a constant stream of WhatsApp messages. This way you will have substantially fewer of the many distractions the modern work environment hides. In essence, this Pomodoro technique derives from computing science and makes you prioritise your tasks into blocks. Each block should be completed within 25 minutes. Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of this award winning “Pomodoro” technique guarantees noticeable improvements in your productivity almost immediately. Some more complex tasks may require extra time and can be broken down into more tasks and those that demand similar resources or go hand-to-hand can all go into one block. Spend time each morning deciding what needs to be done and divide your day into pomodoros (named after the author’s tomato shaped kitchen timer). This technique eschews the concept of multi-tasking and helps procrastinators (hands up anyone?) become super-productive achievers.
Correct Prioritisation is Key
While the Pomodoro technique is promising, the main reason that people get distracted and give in to the false productivity deity of multi-tasking is because they fail to see which tasks are the most important ones. It goes without saying that we all want to complete all of our obligations every day, but some should come first. You don’t consider tidying your desk as crucial as preparing your presentation for the upcoming meeting.
In other words, a key ingredient to productivity is effective prioritisation. Start your day with the things that you want to complete the most. It may feel counter-intuitive, after all , most of us start the day gently, checking emails. No, start the day with a review of what needs to be done, make a schedule for the day and then complete the hardest task first and get it out of the way. That feeling of accomplishment and balance is so satisfying and the task is done; out of the way and no longer preying on your mind, sapping time and energy.
Use all the help you can get
How can technology help? With the burgeoning demand for technology usage in each workplace, there is also a growing variety of available tools to use. Loads of applications are going into circulation every day with each new one being more user-friendly than the other. A few apps that might help are Dispatch to help you de-clutter your inbox, Focus@Will to provide music to boost your focus. Try ZenDay or Any.do to help you schedule your day. Zoho Projects, is a great example of the kind of help you can get. Considered top of its tier by many experts, this software allows you to plan projects surprisingly easily and collaborate effortlessly with clients and employees alike, while doing so.
Juggling several tasks at once is a seductive but dangerous and ultimaitely futile concept. Focus on one thing at a time. After that you will see that it’ll get easier day by day. Results are impressive!
Article written by Emma Whittington