I for one usually start my mornings by switching between tweeting, checking clients Facebook accounts, going through media coverage, trying to work my way through a barrage of emails, eating breakfast, whilst chatting through all the activities we need to achieve for the day with my colleague.

The compulsion to quickly switch between tasks, or juggle two or more things at the same time is something you almost feel is a requirement in order to be most effective in today’s fast-paced business environment. However, I’ve noticed the more I function in this way, the less productive I am.

Research shows that when you try to do two things at once your overall productivity of the tasks goes down. You actually would get everything done in less time if you concentrate on one task at a time, giving each your full attention. Studies suggest it takes our brains only a few seconds or less to switch between tasks, but during the day this adds up!

Two jobs which require real concentration like texting and driving are most definitely not a time to multi-task as the results can be fatal. Sunrise recently showed a video clip of a bus driver in Italy texting with one hand, whilst driving with his elbow and chatting on another phone with his other hand.  Not a bus I would want to be on, that’s for sure.

Ok – so there are definitely times that we shouldn’t attempt to do two things at once. But in the real world we are constantly interrupted and therefore need to switch between tasks, which then take longer to get back into.

According to experts the best way to avoid multitasking is to recreate boundaries. Which means training yourself not to look at emails every time one pops up on your screen or turning off your mobile phone in order to concentrate on one project. Apparently single tasking is something we need to train ourselves to do.

Here are a few tips to help you not to multitask and lead a more productive and less stressful day at work!

  • Set up to do lists for different contexts (i.e. calls, emails, strategies, projects etc) and concentrate on one task from the list at a time
  • Plan your day in blocks, with open blocks in between for urgent things that might crop up. You could try an hour block for a bigger task and then 20 minute blocks in-between for miscellaneous tasks
  • First thing in the morning, work on your most important task. Give yourself a short break and then work on your next most important task. By starting on these first the rest of your day will be a breeze
  • When you are working on a task in a time block, turn off all other distractions i.e. email alerts, twitter (always a distraction for me) etc. Focus on the one task and try to complete it without worrying about anything else
  • If you feel the urge to check your email or switch to another task, stop yourself. Take a deep breath, re-focus and get back to the task in hand
  • There are times when an interruption from your task is necessary. In this case, make a note of where you are with the task in hand and perhaps where your train of thought is heading. Then when you come back to the task, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off
  • Finally take breaks often, stretch your legs and go for a walk outside every day. This will help with productivity and reduce stress.

Good luck and please share any tips you have that work for you.

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