September 3, 2008

Stop the Multitasking and Get More Done Faster

By Simply Organized/Nina Johnson

AS WE ALL search for best practices of time management and getting more accomplished in a day, it seems like the word "multitasking" is mentioned more frequently.

I decided to look into this concept and set the record straight. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of research and papers written on this subject, particularly in the past few years with the significant growth in technology and information flow.

This discussion is for everyone whether you are working in a large or small company, have a workload that seems overwhelming and deadlines looming, or you are running the household, managing the kids schedules and making sure everyone is fed. In a word, STOP.

The research is very clear that multitasking is more detrimental than productive. When we do more than one thing at a time we are actually slower, we increase our frequency of mistakes and we lower the quality of our work. It is proven over and over that the brain is not able to concentrate on two things at the same time.

As always, I have a few ideas to share to help you stop the multitasking, manage what feels like too many things to do, and get more done faster and smarter.

TURN OFF THE DISTRACTIONS: Technology is supposed to help us move faster and get more done, and it can "... but not if the tools become the distraction themselves. Every current time management book, article and blog says the same things about technology: Take a break and turn it off. Turn off the instant message. Turn off the e- mail "ding" sound. Use voice mail to defer phone interruptions. Check e-mail only at regular times, like once an hour or three times a day. Are you flipping out yet? This is for real. Stop reading every e-mail the second it arrives. These distractions interrupt your concentration and then it takes several minutes to get back in to the task you were on.

ELIMINATE OR AT LEAST REDUCE THE NOISE: Kinesthic learners make up about 10 percent of the population and are people who work better with some level of noise in their background. They may prefer to work in a busy cafe that provides background noise. For the rest of us, music may be on, but studies conclude that soothing music with no words is a much better choice.

CHANGE YOUR "TO DO" LIST IN TO TWO CATEGORIES: projects and tasks. Larger projects are made up of smaller tasks.

USE VERBS TO WRITE YOUR TASK LIST: Instead of just dentist, write "call dentist."

PRIORITIZE: Both of your projects and your tasks and review the tasks daily, projects weekly.

SEGREGATE TASKS AND AVOID OVERLAP: You can do several things within the same time period, but segregate them. For example, once the dinner is prepared and in the oven, you can use that 40 minutes to go through the mail, catch up on the news or read an article you have been meaning to read. When you call tech support and are waiting and waiting and waiting, there is no reason why you would not answer some e-mails or update your task list.

CONSOLIDATE GEOGRAPHICALLY: An example of this would be planning and running errands together as opposed to haphazardly. Nothing is worse than going to the same store three times in one week because you did not plan ahead and then there is the gas wasted. At work, consolidate e-mail reading and responding time to once an hour or less.

BE A DECISION MAKER: This is a core concept to anyone who wants to be organized and use their time more efficiently. Deferring decisions creates clutter, puts off the inevitable and means you have to deal with something more than once.

The bottom line is learning to understand your brain's abilities and acknowledging that you are not faster or more productive when you multitask. Let your brain work best for you by concentrating on one thing at a time, whether in short bursts or long stretches.

Here are a few statistics to drive the point home. Researchers found that it takes an average of 15 minutes for a person to return to serious mental tasks like writing. That quick e-mail check and reply means you lost an additional 15 minutes to get yourself back on track to what you were doing. It is estimated that our economy loses close to $650 billion because of interruptions. Just think what that means to you.

A final note on this subject. Driving and phone talking do not mix. With the new law in effect, you cannot use a hand-held phone in the car. Put down the phone and concentrate on one thing, driving.

Nina Johnson is a professional organizer based in Montclair. For more ideas on time productivity, go to

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