12 Tips on How to Multi-Task Effectively

With multiple things demanding your attention at work, it’s easy to lose track of tasks and that gives room for workers to multi-task in-order to achieve their desirable results within a limited assigned time. Meanwhile, there are certain tasks which you should include among your core responsibilities.

Does it seem like doing only one thing at a time isn’t enough anymore? While multitasking can save time, it isn’t appropriate for every situation. To be effective, multitasking has to be done with care and attention.

When you run a small business or startup, everything and everyone demands your attention. Constant distractions are part of the job, but they interrupt your focus. By learning how to multitask effectively amid all those distractions, you can stay on top of your work and increase your productivity.

When managing a project, you have to deal with many tasks at the same time. A common solution is to use your multitasking skills and complete everything simultaneously. However, you will probably struggle as our brain isn’t built to handle more than one thing at once.

It gets tired, overwhelmed, and we find ourselves making mistakes. But there are ways to prevent it, and they start with following the 12 tips below so that you can boost those multitasking skills.

Employees are increasingly being called upon to handle varied responsibilities simultaneously. But not everyone is a born multi-tasker. According to experts, multitasking is not about working harder, but working smarter.

Time-sharing works like this: Your brain can only actively think about one task at a time, so you focus on one task, then another takes its place, just like vacationers occupying a timeshare property. The shift is so fast you don’t even notice that you’re only doing one thing at once. You feel like you’re multitasking, but you are actually time-sharing.

Most of us assume we’re pretty good at multitasking, but we may be deceived. “You are your own worst judge of how good a multi-tasker you are,” Markman says. That’s because the same areas of the brain that monitor your performance are also the areas activated by multitasking. You simply have less bandwidth to evaluate your performance correctly.

In order to produce high quality work in a chaotic, distraction-filled office, you need to help your brain handle all that input at once. Try these 12 techniques to help you work effectively when you have to multi-task:

1. To Multi-Task, Plan Ahead

Don’t wait until you are in the middle of the first task to decide what else you want to accomplish. “Have a plan in mind and set goals. Pick tasks that can genuinely be worked on at the same time, because not all tasks are compatible with each other,” said Sudeshna Datta, co-founder of Absolutdata Analytics.

2. Work on Related Tasks Together

When you work on a task, your brain activates all the circuits and neurons related to that task. When you switch to a new task, your brain has to adjust. The shift happens quickly, but it takes a toll on your memory, focus, and productivity. “The more times you switch, the more times you have to keep changing the state of your brain,” Markman says. “You’re losing time.”

If you need to multitask, then minimize the switching cost by bundling related tasks together. The more similar they are, the easier it will be for you to move fluidly between them.

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3. Accept your Limits

To better manage task organization, be aware of your limits, especially those you can’t control. Your day has 24 hours. Your budget isn’t endless. Your resources are what they are. Above all, you have your own personality to respect. In other words, before deciding how to multi-task, you need to draw a realistic picture of the scenario.

Of course, you can always expand the above with the use of technology. Just keep in mind the number of projects or assignments you are truly capable of managing and completing within your working hours. Project after project, your understanding of it will develop, so see it as a work in progress.

4. Don’t Lose Focus

With multiple things demanding your attention at work, it’s easy to lose track of tasks. Deal with the pressure by prioritizing. “Have a to-do item list and decide the importance of your tasks at hand. Classify according to urgency or importance – this matrix will give you a better idea of what needs to be done immediately and what can wait,” said Madhur Kathuria, CEO of AgiVetta Consulting.

5. Keep your To-Do List Visible

If you work in a chaotic office, create systems to ensure that important tasks or long term projects don’t slip through the cracks. “In a multitask environment, workflow is being driven by the environment, rather than being internally driven,” Markman says. “In a very real sense, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

To stay on top of your work, remind yourself what really needs to get done. Post your to do list in a prominent spot and rank it by priority. Color code or bold the most important tasks and make sure you set aside enough time to address them.

6. Distinguish Urgent from Important

A flawless to-do list is one of the keys to good multitasking. And the secret behind it is a thorough understanding of the differences between urgent (tight deadlines) and important (long-term sustainability) matters.

For instance, according to the Eisenhower’s Principle, It says you should prioritize your tasks in the following sequence:

  1. Important and urgent;
  2. Important but not urgent;
  3. Not important but urgent;
  4. Not important and not urgent.

The importance of the assignment sets the tone of your to-do-list, not the urgency. However, it doesn’t mean you must do your tasks always in this order. Some people use level 3 and 4 to create “breaks” between more relevant issues.

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7. Divide Your Time

There are certain tasks which you should include among your core responsibilities. “Devote a fixed time of the day perhaps the first couple of hours of the workday to finishing these, as they take importance. The important work shouldn’t be compromised on,” said Kamal Karanth, managing director at Kelly Services & KellyOCG India.

8. Learn to Concentrate

Concentration is fundamental to multitasking. Productive people focus entirely on what they are doing in each given moment, then switch tasks. If it sounds difficult to you, here are some suggestions on how to accomplish it:

  • Work on your willpower: Procrastination can make you waste time between assignments, especially if you don’t have a deadline coming soon. Make sure you know the importance of what you are doing, even if you need to set reminders on your phone.
  • Try some meditation: Meditation is known for its ability to improve focus. There are several apps with great suggestions that can help you with it so that you won’t be bored – staying in silence in a dark room while paying attention to your breath is just one of its techniques.
  • Take notes (or doodle): Specialists also suggest that engaging in handwriting activity during work can help you to stay on the right track. Some people take notes, others doodle. Pick your favorite.

9. Use downtime to Review New Information

One of the dangers of multitasking is that it gets in the way of your memory. “You interfere with the process of acquiring information,” Markman says. When you try to recall what you learned during a client meeting or brainstorm, you’re more likely to draw a blank.

If you have to skim an important document during a busy workday, take time to review it later that day. Reread it while you walk between meetings or commute home, and explain it back to yourself to make sure you understand it. “You’ll have a much better chance of solidifying it in memory,” Markman says.

10. Avoid Distractions

If you think you can’t multitask at all, then you should know that you already are. Check your work environment. It’s likely to have some noise, such as background music or phones ringing, or you might be getting app notifications frequently. You still can do your work and deal with all the above happening around you, and this is multitasking.

The problem is that too much external stimulation can become an issue, even if it comes from your duties. Nevertheless, not all distractions are bad. For instance, music helps some people to work better; others are energized by a chatty room.

To find a happy medium, do a test:

  • List all interference around you
  • Eliminate them one by one: work in another area, or turn off your apps notifications, for instance.
  • Observe the impact of their absence on your work

If your performance improved, it’s time to remove the factor in question from your working life. But if your mind is wandering, even more, put the “distraction” back to your routine.

11. Learn to Supervise

Delegating is at the core of task organization. It allows you to assign to yourself the tasks matching your skill set and to supervise what is left, optimizing your time and increasing performance. But it also has a negative side. Your team will be reaching out to you, interrupting what you are doing to ask questions or to seek approval.

If the demand is interfering with your productivity, go back to your to-do list and set time aside for it. Let your collaborators know when you will be available, and which situations are considered as emergencies.

12. Take Breaks

As important as the time you spend being productive, are the minutes you save to rest. Taking breaks is a proven way to restart your mind so you can get back to work refreshed. Your body will also thank you for the opportunity to move around, preventing muscular tension and its damaging consequences.

The length and frequency of your downtime will be defined by your personal choices, your line of work, and the task at hand. The usual recommendation is stopping for 15 minutes every hour, and never skipping lunch. But it’s also essential to pre-schedule your time off, so it’s set at regular intervals especially if you are dealing with creative tasks.

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