How to Be an Effective Multitasker
Good multitaskers emphasize efficient task management over performing two or three jobs at once. Use these tips to manage your time and increase your productivity.
Did you know many employees put their multitasker hats on during virtual meetings? It’s when they would respond to emails and catch up on pending work, hitting two birds (or three, in this case) with one stone. While this may seem like an efficient use of time, productivity experts say it takes a toll on your efficacy.
Defined as performing multiple tasks simultaneously, multitasking can occur anywhere from the office to the home. While you’re free to do more than one thing at a time, the cognitive effort required of cleaning the house while listening to music, for example, is usually minimal. However, juggling work tasks while, say, driving, is tougher on the brain.
Your Multitasking Brain
What you perceive as multitasking is your brain rapidly toggling between tasks or performing multiple tasks in quick succession. The , such as losing accuracy or speed.
It’s why using a mobile phone while driving a car is dangerous. You're steering, watching your speed, and predicting the behavior of drivers and pedestrians. With your attention divided into multiple tasks, any distraction becomes a threat to safety.
What It Takes to be Effective at Multitasking
So, is multitasking a myth? Put it this way: Becoming a multitasker means learning which tasks you can perform concurrently and which would benefit from a more focused approach. Here are seven tips to help you balance and manage your to-do list.
1. Learn the areas in your life where multitasking has an impact.
Time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders says combining organizational tasks with other activities can make them much more enjoyable. She talks with a friend or listens to a podcast when sorting or filing papers to keep herself mentally stimulated.
If you need to brainstorm fresh and innovative ideas, Saunders recommends engaging in an activity inviting creative thoughts, such as doodling, , or browsing through a store. These activities do not demand complete focus, so your mind can wander and help you discover new insights.
2. Master prioritizing tasks.
Everything can't be a priority, so manage your attention effectively using the Urgent-Important Matrix developed by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Categorize tasks into four quadrants, focusing on the tasks falling under Urgent and Important first.
- Urgent and Important
- Important but Not Urgent
- Urgent but Not Important
- Neither Urgent nor Important
Make sure to identify each task's deadline. Tasks with imminent due dates should take precedence over those with extended timelines.
3. Focus better with a time management technique.
Many have lauded the effectiveness of the Pomodoro technique for maintaining concentration and preventing burnout. The method involves working in 25-minute intervals separated by breaks. Here's how it works:
- Work on a task for 25 minutes, your first Pomodoro session.
- Once the 25 minutes are up, take a short break of around five minutes.
- After the break, start your second Pomodoro session and perform the task for another 25 minutes.
- Once you've completed four Pomodoro sessions (about 100 minutes of work), take a more extended break of 15-30 minutes.
Other tried and tested time management techniques include working in time blocks, doing scheduled deep work, and addressing tasks in order of urgency, to name a few.
3. Minimize distractions with technology's help.
Timers can help you focus on a designated task. But it would help if you also created a distraction-free environment. Turn off notifications or set up "focus" hours on your devices to manage alerts. Use your communication apps' "do not disturb" setting to let other people know when you're busy.
Email platforms like Outlook can help you book time blocks for a week or more and even remind you to schedule one. This allows you to secure time for activities and manage your workload in advance. It can also show progress and compare the hours of focus time on your calendar over the current and last month.
4. Plan productive meetings.
A shows short and small meetings are most effective for engagement and focus. In addition, these meetings should not be scheduled in the morning to keep people from multitasking so early in the day.
The study also suggests that long or large meetings should come with an agenda stating specific time slots for discussions. This way, employees can work on other tasks during segments that don't require input.
5. Avoid creating one giant to-do list.
Rather than jamming everything into a single list, create separate ones for each project. Work productivity apps like Evernote and Asana can help organize your notes, especially when breaking a more extensive project into smaller, manageable tasks. These tools can also sort them automatically according to priority or due date and provide at-a-glance insights into your workload.
Asana also advises writing down to-do tasks with verb-based titles so the action to take is immediately evident. For instance, instead of just putting "client presentation" and the deadline, describe the task at hand precisely: "research data," "draft outline," "ask the design team to make charts," and so on.
6. Perform another task if you are stuck.
You probably had one (or several) of those days when you couldn't solve a problem. When the frustration gets to you, take a break and attend to an unrelated task instead. Economist Tim Harford calls this "slow-motion multitasking," which prompts your brain to let go of the wrong solutions and make space for the right ones.
He shares in his TED Talk, "Imagine working on a crossword puzzle and you can't figure out the answer, and the reason is that the wrong answer is stuck in your head. It's very easy – just go and do something else. You'll forget the wrong answer and that gives the right answer space to pop into the front of your mind."
7. Give your mind a break.
Taking a break from work may seem counterintuitive, particularly when there are still pending tasks on your to-do list. However, prioritizing self-care is crucial to boosting creativity and problem-solving abilities.
One effective way to prevent burnout is scheduling tech-free downtime for a refreshing break. Engage in activities such as reading a book, , or for just 10 minutes, which can help improve focus. Additionally, spending time outdoors and engaging in physical activity does wonders for mental well-being.
And keep things simple in your life and let your products do the multitasking for you, especially in the grooming department. Rexona Men Natural Fresh Lime Cool Antiperspirant Deodorant Roll-On saves you time, effort, and money as a two-in-one underarm hygiene product. It fights odor and controls sweat, thanks to natural charcoal and lime. It also offers stain protection apart from the "just showered" fragrance.
See Yourself as a Multitasker
The good news is seeing yourself as a multitasker alone can lead to better performance, . It found that participants were more focused and performed better when they believed they were multitasking.
Multitasking has always been considered a valuable workplace skill, but it's good to understand when it can backfire. Recognizing a job's cognitive demands helps you know when to focus on one task and when to embrace doing two things simultaneously. Follow the tips above to strike the perfect balance as a multitasker. Good luck!