We all know that multitasking is bad for productivity.
Yet we all still do it.
Even while writing this article, I was multitasking. I answered texts and took breaks to get on social media. I actually think that I multitasked more during the writing of this post than most others.
I’ll admit, I’m a multi-tasker. A pretty bad one at that.
I’m not proud of it. Believe me.
I’ve read all of the research and know that those who shift between tasks regularly decrease their productive time by 40 percent, for instance, and that I get less done than when I sit done and just focus.
And because of that, I’ve tried a lot of tools. I’ve found a lot that don’t work for me, but I’ve also found a lot that do. (At least most of the time.)
Here are eleven tools and totally realistic ways to stop multitasking that have helped me develop more productive work habits – and can help you, too.
1. Number Priorities
Unless you’re brand-new at your job, you know what’s most important on your to-do list. Unfortunately, a bulleted list of tasks doesn’t show you what should be done first, and it’s easy to neglect.
The simple solution to this is a numbered list.
Order tasks by urgency and importance to avoid skipping around or attempting to tackle more than one at a time.
You might have to force yourself to follow it in order, of course, but doing so means you accomplish what’s most pressing first.
2. Set a Time Limit – And a Timer
Give yourself a set, realistic amount of time to do something on your list and focus on getting it done in that time frame.
Set a timer for half way through and evaluate your progress when it goes off. Then, set another for the amount of time you have left.
When you’re done, move onto the next task, but not before setting a timer for that, too.
Your time estimates may be off a little at first, but they’ll get more accurate as you keep doing this. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself able to decrease the amount of time you set aside because you’ll be more efficient.
3. Clear Your Desk
A cluttered desk presents a myriad of distractions for a multitasker. Sometimes you’ll find a forgotten assignment and switch gears to finish that. Other times, you’ll find yourself frustrated by the mess and stop what you’re doing to re-organize. Both of these distractions — and the many possible others — could be quashed simply by making ongoing organization a priority.
Once your desk is organized, you can take it a step further by decorating it to suit your style. Not only will you find yourself to be more productive at your clean desk, you’ll be happier working at one that feels a little bit less cookie-cutter.
4. Mute Your Phone
How long do you wait after your phone buzzes to check who texted you? It probably wouldn’t even matter if you were in the midst of something important at work — you might just sneak a peak at your phone and, like that, you’ve lost your focus.
It’s incredibly difficult but also extremely vital that you turn your phone to silent or turn on the “Do Not Disturb” function while you’re working.
You don’t have to turn it off or remain entirely out of touch, of course. Say you’ll check your messages and emails every hour, for example, and stick to what tasks need to be done in the meantime.
Anyone who seriously needs to get in touch with you will find a way to, don’t worry.
5. And Everything Else
Take it a step further by muting your email, chat or other services that cause distractions. There are plenty of extensions to pause emails from entering your inbox until a specified time to help hold you accountable.
Try Inbox Pause or Inbox When Ready for starters.
6. Be Present
The next time a colleague calls you with a question or update, don’t do anything else but talk. Close your eyes if you need to, but make sure you’re focused. By giving your full and undivided attention to a conversation, you’re way less likely to forget the important bits if they come up later.
The same goes for meetings, conference calls, collaborations … any time information is transferred between one colleague to another. Not only will you avoid questions in the future, but you’ll build a stronger connection between yourself and your co-workers.
7. Separate Yourself
No matter how well you’ve organized your desk to improve your productivity, a change of scenery is also a valuable tool in improving your focus.
It’s like going to the library to study during college.
If you can, find an empty conference room, spread out all of the documents you need and work, far from the distractions of your phone, computer and chatty colleagues. You’ll find yourself blazing through the task at hand.
8. Take Your Task Full Screen
Unfortunately, most jobs require you to be on a computer almost all day long, which means you’re open to a truly endless loop of virtual distractions.
Of course, you can block out most of the non-professional ones — or perhaps your employer does that for you by restricting access to social media sites, for example. Nevertheless, some sort of distraction will always filter through the cracks.
That’s why you should always take the screen you’re working on and stretch it across your entire monitor to block out any sidebar distractions that’ll throw you off course.
Don’t forget to also minimize your other tabs so you can only see one to avoid switching back and forth.
9. Save Links for Later
There’s so much content on the internet that’s likely valuable or interesting to you.
If you come across an unrelated-yet-thought-provoking piece, you can’t let it derail your productivity.
Instead, create a bookmarks folder on your browser and save links there so you can read them later when you need a breather or when they’ll apply to a project you’re actually working on. That way, they won’t get lost in the internet abyss and can keep powering through your day.
10. Give Yourself a Mental Break
Sometimes, we give up on one task and start on another because we’re mentally exhausted. Rather than completely lose your focus, take a break. You don’t have to leave your desk for long to reap the benefits of a break, and, because you’re not switching onto something else, you won’t entirely lose your place or feel like you have to get your bearings again before diving back in.
Another trick is to use placeholders. If you’re at a loss for words and can’t remember a name, place, adjective or other piece of information, avoid spending too much time thinking about it or looking it up right away. Instead, finish your train of thought by filling it in with a placeholder for the time being.
For instance: [Name] says that using placeholders can save you [number] of minutes per day.
11. Give Yourself a Reward
Okay, this one might seem a bit silly, but it works. Promise yourself a reward if you are successful in your attempts to focus and finish things one at a time. Something as simple as striking through a to-do list item can be incentive enough to keep going, but you can also think bigger — an end-of-the-month spa treatment or Friday night glass of wine might be all you need to keep yourself on track throughout the week.
Whatever incentivizes you the most should be your reward.
Multitasking is a hard habit to break, but by implementing a few new habits you’ll be able to power through tasks one at a time without even a second thought.
How will you make yourself a single-tasker? Let us know in the comments section below. And stay up-to date with all posts on productivity and other work tips, tricks and advice by subscribing to the newsletter.
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