Less is More: How to Get Multitasking Under Control

You know that you know this: multitasking is not a good thing. Studies demonstrate that multitasking reduces individual productivity by 25% (some experts say it’s as high as 40%). When we multitask, our ability to do anything accurately drops. It scrambles priorities, wastes time, and increases stress levels.

In fact, we’re not really “multitasking” at all. Our brains are struggling to focus and then refocus on ever-changing tasks. We’re doing one thing at a time, but constantly shifting gears and resetting our concentration. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller said, “…when people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”

So how do we increase our productivity by becoming better at focusing our attention on one thing at a time? Here are a few well-chosen tips:

  1. Work in timed intervals, then take a brief break. Schedule 90 minutes for highly focused work on a project then give yourself a 20 minute break to stretch, and check emails and phone messages. Then return to a new timed interval for another round of concentrated effort.
  1. Limit your email viewing to specific times of the day. Reducing the distraction is obvious, BUT, do yourself a favor: include a brief P.S. in your email signature block to let people know. Setting expectations is incredibly important. Over time, if people know that you typically check email three times a day, they’ll be less panicked or upset when you do not reply in 3 minutes — and you’ll get more accomplished.
  1. Are you a morning person? Reserve major blocks of time for focused work at whatever time of day you find your concentration is highest.
  1. Like email, do not automatically answer the phone every time it rings. Also, like email, set expectations. Automated replies can be very useful. They let people know that you’re in the middle of something and will call them back as soon as you can. Customized ringtones can be used to identify callers who are especially important.
  1. Be mindful. Mindfulness helps you be present in the moment. As soon as you notice your mind wandering, redirect attention back to the task at-hand. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.

Individual productivity losses have a multiplier effect and result in significant organization-wide productivity loss. As experienced executive coaches we have learned that if you are a manager or a leader you must model the behavior you want to see in others. To reduce multitasking at your company, you need to set the tone and become less distracted (and more productive) yourself.

To learn more about how executive coaching can improve productivity, contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.