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Quit Multi Tasking Before It’s Too Late

Quit Multi Tasking Before It’s Too Late

When you’ve got a full schedule, multitasking looks like a good way to free up time. Almost everybody does it. Kids eat while watching TV or playing on an iPad. Adults simultaneously text and surf the internet. Walk down any city street, and you’ll see people attempting to walk and use their smartphones at the same time.

Multitasking has become the norm. We even pride ourselves on how many things we can do at once. The more tasks we can juggle, the more valuable we feel we are to our companies, families, and friends. This may be flawed logic, however.

When you think back on your experiences with multitasking, did you really accomplish more? Our obsession with multitasking confirms our love of productivity, but the quality of our work may tell a different story.

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Multitasking is a habit, not an art form

Nothing beats wrapping up a day of work with a cleared checklist. It feels good to accomplish so much at once. Multi-tasking has become a habit for most of us. It’s expected of us, and we don’t think twice about tackling several projects at once.

Habits are made of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.[1] The cue prompts us to do something, the routine is the behavior acted out, and the reward is the payoff that we get from the routine. Habits are hard to break because when you successfully complete your routine, your brain releases a feel-good neurotransmitter called dopamine.

According to some studies, our brains release lots of dopamine when we’re multitasking. Your brain rewards you more when you multitask because you are fulfilling more routines at the same time.[2] All that dopamine–and the feelings of satisfaction that come along with it–trick you into thinking you’re great at multitasking. This is why the habit is so hard to break.

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More isn’t necessarily better

The “more is better” mentality is a myth in need of busting. Research has proven that multi-tasking isn’t good for us, and we aren’t as good at it as we think. Your brain is simply not built to focus on multiple things at the same time.[3]

When you’re faced with doing two things at once, it’s not possible for you to focus completely on both items. Instead, your brain rapidly switches between the two tasks, which creates the illusion that you’re 100% invested in two activities at the same time.

When your mind has to juggle, it can’t be as effective as when you give your undivided attention. It takes longer to do things because you’re constantly interrupting yourself. You’ll make more errors because every time your brain switches tasks you have to refocus. You’ll also feel more stressed as you flip between jobs.[4]

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Switching back and forth affects your memory and the quality of your work. Sure, more items are completed at the end of a day of multitasking, but have you had the chance to think about them with sufficient depth?

I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you want to do your best work, it’s time to break the multi-tasking habit and focus on doing one thing at a time.

Monotasking gets better results

It may sound counter-intuitive to switch from doing several things at the same time to limiting yourself to one task. Monotasking, or doing only one thing, is better for us, and it improves work outputs.

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We have to retrain our brains to make single-tasking a habit. By devoting your full attention to one task, you can maintain focus for longer, work with more depth, and produce higher-quality work.

Research shows that when you make a conscious effort to refocus a wandering mind, you increase your ability to control your attention. Just like you can develop muscle memory to make some jobs seem second nature to you, you can harness the power that your prefrontal cortex has over your limbic system. Your focus and memory improves, and you have better control over your mind.

Easy tips to build your monotasking muscle

  • Open one tab at a time. How often do you have 15-20 items open on your computer screen at once? Limit yourself to having one tab open. This keeps you from being tempted to flip between tabs and lose concentration.
  • Start small. Making drastic changes to your lifestyle can leave you feeling frustrated. Take small steps to make mindfulness a natural part of your day. At mealtimes, for example, clear away all other distractions. When you’re in a meeting, turn your phone off and put it away. These minor changes add up to days filled with more focus.
  • Set your priorities. You might have a mile-long list of things that need your attention, but you have to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Think about what is most important, and when you work best so that you can still be productive without sacrificing quality.[5]
  • Curb your excesses. Most of us have too much stuff cluttering our lives. Think about what you need to complete the task in front of you, and put everything else away. Resist the urge to over-commit by saying “yes” to too many things and having all your projects out at once. When you are working on something, everything else should be put aside.
  • Let people know what you’re doing. If your colleagues are used to you dropping everything to put out the latest fire, they may be shocked to find that you are prioritizing your schedule in a new way. They’ll be more likely to respect and support your efforts if they know what you’re trying to do.[6]

All these tips help you rein in your wandering mind. Each time you are able to stop distraction and refocus, you build your attention muscle. The more control you have over paying attention, the less you’ll be distracted. Eventually, focus will become your new habit.

Single tasking is the next big thing

It’s time to ditch the multitasking myth we’ve been sold for years. We humans aren’t as good at multitasking as we think. This habit robs us of our focus and the opportunity to do profound work.

If the idea of totally changing your workflow seems overwhelming, try a few of the tips in this article to get started. After you feel what it’s like to devote your energy to one thing at a time, you’ll be able to make monotasking a habit.

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on March 25, 2019

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up. You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out.

But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

3. Go to All Office Networking Events

Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

4. Show Initiative

Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

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Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

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Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

7. Find a Mentor

With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

9. Set Your Professional Bar High

Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

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Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

The Bottom Line

Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

“Half of life is showing up.”

The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

Remember, your career is your business!

More Resources About Ever-Growing

Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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