INCREASE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY – KNOW WHEN TO MULTITASK, AND WHEN NOT TO!
In our previous article about multitasking (WHAT is multitasking), we addressed some major points like what it is and the science behind it, the gender debate, super multitaskers, continuous partial attention, and some minor examples of how to multitask effectively. However, that article explained thoroughly that multitasking might be an obstacle to your productivity. But that is not always the case. There are a few techniques one can use to properly execute more than one task at once. In this article, we will be discuss exactly that: how to increase your productivity by clarifying when you should multitask and when you should not.
If you are not a super multitasker that can already perform simultaneous activities at once, take a look at this article for ways to improve your productivity. Otherwise, you might be lessening your productivity by trying to do more tasks than your brain can effectively process.
The first step we must all take is deciding when to multitask. We have already explained that performing two or more activities simultaneously is not something that our brains can do if it demands a high amount of focus. Also, throughout the day our brain becomes increasingly tired of all the tasks and daily challenges we face. At the end of the day, we are not as fresh, witty, or capable as we were in the morning. That is why we sleep, right? To recharge. When we wake up, we are as fresh and capable as we can be. Since multitasking is something that represents an overload to our brain, it should not be performed late in the evening, for example. It is on its own a demanding task. If we are not at our best, it will be even more poorly executed.
To increase our productivity when multitasking, the following four things are needed: rest, full knowledge of the task at hand, total concentration, and breaks. If we do not take these four elements into account, then instead of boosting our productive time, we will be making it less effective and so a waste of time and energy. As we all know, to be truly productive, you must make the most out of your time. Otherwise, we are being unproductive and allocating our time improperly.
First of all, we need to be well rested. If you think you are going to multitask, or attempt to do so, without a good night’s rest, you are mistaken. Our brain needs to be at its best to do any task that requires a decent amount of focus, let alone trying to do more than one task at once.
If you really need to multitask, then you must prioritize sleep in your schedule. Six to eight hours per day are an absolutely must. One of the things we tend to cut back on is our sleeping schedule because it seems so unimportant when trying to accomplish your goals, right? But when we are trying to be more productive, rest becomes one of the most important elements. Otherwise, silly mistakes start to happen due to lack of focus. It has happened to all of us more than once. We don’t sleep well, and the next day we are goofy and distracted. This results in poor executions, especially when tackling more than we can handle. Is it productive to spend the following days fixing the poor quality that we delivered to others and ourselves? Not at all. Be honest with yourself and your current status.
The bottom line is to sleep when you know you will need to tackle multiple tasks the next day. Don’t disregard the importance of good rest or try to convince yourself that you work just fine with four or five hours of sleep.
Full knowledge of the task at hand
As we discussed in the previous article about multitasking as an obstacle to productivity, our brain cannot do more than one activity effectively if either requires a high amount of focus. The only exception is when the tasks at hand are so ingrained in you that they are automatic. You don’t even have to think about what you are doing. That is why coupling a physical task with a mental one is the best way to multitask. Most of our physical tasks are already so ingrained in our beings that we don’t need to think, so our brains can do whatever we ask them to do.
Simply put, if you are going to have to multitask at work or at home, pair those activities according to how good and experienced you are with them. For example, you can make routine phone calls or listening to your latest podcast episodes while walking or doing dishes. At work, you could rehearse a speech while filing or signing documents. Be sure your focus does not diverge in many directions. If you are talking with a client, you need to give them your full attention to avoid mistakes that might burn some bridges. This is another point on which we must be honest with ourselves. Don’t take on more than you can at one time. Multiple tasks that don’t require our full attention are certainly doable, but you must at least excel at one of them. For example, writing a report or making a spreadsheet while listening to a conference about a topic that you are interested in. Only you can determine how well you can juggle those tasks.
The third element to multitask effectively is being in a mental state of full concentration. It might sound contradictory to say that full focus is needed as we perform multiple tasks, but it really isn’t. The mental state of full concentration applies to everything, even if we are talking about multitasking. It is already taxing to do it on its own, but if we are not in a state of mind that allows us to effectively juggle different tasks, the results will be unsatisfying. This element is deeply connected with being well rested and taking breaks. Our attention span, or state of mind in its most attentive status, can only last up to twenty minutes, according to researchers. Since we are talking about multitasking, it even more taxing. Needless to say, without proper rest it is impossible to maintain this focus for stretches of twenty minutes.
We might continue to be focused after our limit, but it is not with the same intensity as before. So the best possible way to approach it is by removing every distraction at hand (noise, hunger, etc.) and taking breaks. If you feel you are no longer being as productive as you could be, take a short break.
As previously mentioned, multitasking is extremely taxing on your brain. Even If you have high stamina, it isn’t recommended to go long periods of time juggling multiple tasks. Our brains need time to rest and refocus or else you will become increasingly tired and start to reduce the quality of your work and the level of your productivity. Most times it might feel that you are being productive by getting things done simultaneously, however, that is only your perception. In order to have an unbiased view of this topic, you need to look at your results. Look at a sample of work you did while concentrating on one taskg, a sample from when you multitasked with proper rest and breaks, and a final sample from when you are pushing yourself to the limit. Let the results speak for themselves. You will probably notice a massive difference in quality. In addition, by trying to multitask without following the proper elements, you will notice that things actually take longer to complete.
In order to achieve a more productive approach, there are a ton of factors that you must take into account. Otherwise, you will only think that you are being productive, when, in reality, you are overloading your brain and wasting more time instead of saving. These four elements will help you foster the state of equilibrium that you need to multitask efficiently and boost your productivity. However, there are more factors that can help or stall you, such as, physical needs, emotional state, distractions, etc. Sometimes, we must face the fact that a few days we just won’t be on our game. No matter how hard we try we won’t be able to achieve the results that we are looking for. Those days don’t take it too hard and leave some extra room to rest. This is all part of being a more productive person, that is, accepting when we aren’t at our best.
Now that we have talked about the elements needed to effectively perform multiple tasks at once, we can address when we should multitask and when we should not.
Even if we ensure every element is being fulfilled, there is still the problem inherent to multitasking: our brains can’t do it properly. Unless we are one of those special individuals that can effectively multitask at will – super multitaskers – we can only do the best we can according to our capabilities. Please note that this only applies to multiple tasks that require a high level of attention. Simple stuff can and should be multitasked with proper training and experience. Taking this into account, what is the best combination of activities we can perform simultaneously that will boost our productivity? Simply put, a mental and physical activity. Our productivity doesn’t revolve around work. Most of our productivity is wasted in trivial tasks that take up too much time, like chores and social phone calls. That is where we waste most of our free time that could be used to improve our skillset or ourselves.
So, what can we do to tackle it properly? Couple those simple activities with tasks that actually matter. For example, when you are cleaning the floor or preparing your meal, why not phone whomever you need to phone? Instead of doing these trivial things separately, multitask them! Many joggers are looking for an extra boost in their productivity, so instead of listening to music, they listen to an audio book about a topic they want to learn about. This works well because we don’t have to actively use our brain to run. We can do other things that foster our personal development. The perfect time to mentally organize our day is while we are preparing our breakfast or taking our morning shower. . Schedule meetings and tasks throughout the day according to our availability and energy levels. Multitasking isn’t about doing ten things at once. As long as you are actively freeing up your time to take on other fulfilling tasks for your growth, that is effective multitasking. We all want to be more productive, but looking like we are being productive without having the proper results to back it up is meaningless. We must leave our ego out of it.
We have already discussed the elements needed and proper ways to multitask. Now we are going to take a look at when NOT to multitask. If you take a look at our article about multitasking being a potential obstacle to your productivity, you can easily see that trying to juggle multiple tasks at once is nearly impossible. Our brains just aren’t designed to do so. They want to focus on something very specific or nothing at all. It is really hard for our brain to refocus between activities because it needs to reset every time. That is why multitasking should not involve more than one activity that requires a mental effort on our part.
Attending to phone calls with clients that require your full attention and trying to make your PowerPoint presentation for the next day’s meeting are two tasks that should never be done simultaneously, for example. They are important tasks that need to be of the highest quality that you can deliver. They can’t be half done, or poorly done, because they showcase your abilities to the outside world. Everything that has your name attached to it must showcase your best effort. If not, you will not be noticed in your professional career. Is that productive? Not in the slightest.
This also applies to tasks for which you are inexperienced. How can you properly execute two or more tasks at the same time if you are still learning about one of them? You need to become a master at it. It needs to become second nature before attempting to insert it in your multitasking activities. Let’s say, for example, you want to learn about coding because you are interested in it. Can you effectively learn about coding while talking to your boss about a meeting taking place the next day? Hardly. Even simple activities that you are experienced in are hard to multitask if they demand a lot of focus because your brain will quickly get tired of tackling so much information at once.
Multitasking effectively is a great asset to improve one’s productivity. Still, like every other asset we have, we should only use it when it is appropriate to do so. Even if you fulfill every element needed to execute proper multitasking, you need to take into account the type of tasks that you are going to address. Being more productive is only effective if you are saving time to do other things. It doesn’t mean you have to do ten things at once and waste double the time. Everything needs to be in moderation and within reason.
Hopefully, after this article you will have a better understanding of how and when to multitask and when NOT to multitask. Remember that this is not a shortcut to better results. It will help you achieve better results in the long run. Nevertheless, progress takes time and patience.