It may not be easy to quit, but science tells us that multitasking is not all it's cracked up to be. Staying focused and concentrating on one task at a time is worth a shot and we may end up getting more done (and feeling a whole lot calmer) in the long run.
While most of us are susceptible to multitasking, research suggests that people who have a harder time blocking out distractions and focusing on a single task are more likely to be multitaskers. Those of us who do multitask often overestimate just how successful we are at doing so, to boot.
But there's hope for us yet. Once you're willing to accept that multitasking isn't doing us any favors, follow these tips for focusing on one thing at a time -- without sacrificing productivity.
Put down the phone (gently!). Block out distractions while you work, hang out with friends or play the guitar by turning off the phone, TV and anything else that draws you away from what you're actually doing.
Get into a routine. This can be helpful if you spend a good chunk of your day on the computer or working from home. Instead of diving in to tasks willy-nilly,set up a schedule that tells you what to work on and when (and be sure to incorporate some breaks into the day). That way, you'll know what to expect from yourself each time you sit down to work (and you'll be less tempted to goof off online or tinker with household repairs).
Set goals. Know what you're going to do before you start doing it. If you have no clear path, distractions can come easily. Before starting a new task, take a few minutes to plan out the steps you'll need to complete and in what order -- that way, you'll be less able to wander. An important step of goal setting? A quality to-do list.
Listen well. We're not being the most productive when we're half listening to someone while checking our phone, Facebook and LinkedIn all at once (also, it's just plain rude). To be a better listener (and get the info you need the first time),face the speaker and look him/her right in the eye and stay present with the conversation. Who cares if you have 12 unread emails; this person deserves your attention.
Cut out clutter. To help avoid distractions, stay organized. Find a place for everything on your desk and keep your paperwork in order so you're not wasting time searching through piles of files (say that five times fast). This goes for your desktop too: Keep files organized and close extra browser windows and taps so you can work with a clean screen. For an extra boost, apply some Feng Shui principles to your workspace.
Give yourself a break. Catch yourself staring at your computer? Literally, just staring at it? Probably time for a break. Studies show taking brief breaks during a task can improve focus. So take a walk around the block, get up and do some jumping jacks or take five minutes to face the wall and breathe deeply. It's good for you, and it's good for your productivity -- win-win!