Making the Case Against Multitasking
My 9-5 is a great example of how to get nothing done. I'm the Marketing Manager for two RE/MAX agents and I can't count the amount of times that I've sat down with every intention of getting a ton of work done... only to find that four hours have passed, I've answered the phone fifteen times, and I'm nowhere on my project.
This is magnified when I sit down to do any of my freelance work, because having all of those other tabs is sooooo tempting and I'm not only managing my own creative projects, networking, planning and administrative, but someone else's, too! It's so tempting and easy to get sucked in to doing something, anything other than what I'm doing. But, every time I switch to a new task my brain has to engage, disengage and reengage somewhere else and I lose precious work time that I could be spending
As such, I've had it with trying to multitask.
Sure, we might feel productive while simultaneously checking our email, social media feeds, taking phone calls, writing, etc, but what we're actually doing is diving up our attention and energy and actually half-assing all of it instead of being really, really good at one of those things, and studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, we can make up to 50 percent more errors.
Here's what I do to stay focused and fight the urge to multitask:
Work uninterrupted for designated periods of time. I plug in headphones so there are no external distractions and put my head down and just get through it. Hours will pass in the blink of an eye and my productivity skyrockets.
Set alarms for checking emails & alerts. Especially when I'm waiting to hear back from a client, or working on a social media project. I can't ignore them.
Put my phone face-down. Usually I put it to my side, or underneath something, as the little alerts drive me batty and fill me with that "must respond now!" urge. Some people recommend putting your phone in another room, but honestly I'm way too attached to mine to ever do that. Plus I like it's pretty Dalek case.
Stretch. I find my attention starts slipping if I start getting uncomfortable; it's kind of like my mind is trying to convince me to continue to sit still by going "oh hey, check out what's happening on Twitter!" If I find myself slipping into this mindset I'll get up (without checking my phone!) and do a standing torso twist stretch (this also cracks my back, which feels amazing. Don't judge!).
Get some damn sleep. I'm terrible for this. I'll work until well into the night without realizing it; or, I'll realize that it's 11:45pm and think "just a little more work" and then it's almost 1am. It doesn't help that I happen to date a workaholic who is just as bad as I am, but we're both slowly trying to form habits that make us more productive overall, not just when it's crunch-time.
Cut back on caffeine when I'm working. This is the hardest of all. I love coffee and my 9-5 is conveniently located near Little Sister and Thom Bargen (my favourite haunt) is a short walk from my house. Not only does caffeine consumption mess up your sleep patterns (see above, we already know this is an issue for me) but that little kick-start to my heart that a cup of strong coffee frequently is counter-productive because my mind starts racing too much to focus on a single project.
The moral of the story is this: we didn't evolve to live our lives this way, looking at a million things a minute. We walked long ways and focused on singular activities, so it's important to be mindful of the ways that our contemporary lifestyles go against what's natural, and how we can curb those behaviours to actually be productive and happy.
Do you have any tips for staying focused? I'd love to hear them!