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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

Forget Learning How to Multitask to 10X Your Productivity

Forget Learning How to Multitask to 10X Your Productivity

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time.

Spoiler alert: multitasking is not the answer.

Why Is Multitasking a Myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your Brain on Multitasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multitasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

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When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why Multitasking Is Failing You

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

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This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to Stop Multitasking and Work Productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

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2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

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5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The Key to Productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss these tips:

Featured photo credit: Javier Quesada via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on February 24, 2021

How To Create A Daily Schedule To Organize Your Day

How To Create A Daily Schedule To Organize Your Day

When I was young, I had a pink piggy bank on my dresser—and a very important goal to buy a shiny, red bike. Each time I earned money on chores, I ran to the piggy bank. Over time, thanks to my small, consistent habit, my coin collection wasn’t just spare change any more. I finally came up with enough money to buy the bike.

What my piggy bank was then to me, my daily schedule is today.

We all have a vision for the future, and it can feel overwhelming to stare it down from afar, especially without a plan. The best way to accomplish goals is to break them down into smaller, daily habits. That handful of coins might seem inconsequential today, but what you do repeatedly ultimately creates the quality of your life.[1]

Everyone’s personal routine will look different and are based on their individual goals and values. But applying a few general principles to your daily schedule can help maximize your effectiveness and productivity and, over time, help you accomplish your goals.

Here are five practices to help get you started in creating a daily schedule.

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1. Prioritize Your Values

“Success” is as unique as the person pursuing it. But all successful people have one important thing in common: They strategically design their lives to align with the things they care about the most.[2]

Practically, that means before you can create a daily schedule that helps you accomplish your goals and live the life you want to live, you have to define what you value. An understanding of these things will help you pinpoint priorities that make sense and, ultimately, organize your day accordingly.

As a first step, carve out some time to think about what’s important to you. Make a list, in order. Then, find ways to incorporate those things in your daily and weekly routines in time blocks that honor how important each value is.

For example, if your biggest goal is health and fitness, then you should prioritize working out and healthy eating before other, less important hobbies. If your top priority is family or friends, then you’ll want to make sure you carve out time each day to connect with people you love before you jump into work.

Defining your personal priorities prevents the things you value from slipping off your to-do list and into the margins. It also allows you to delegate and outsource the tasks that aren’t in accordance with your values.[3]

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2. Include a Morning Routine

It’s not uncommon for productivity gurus to boast of their 4 AM wake-up calls and elaborate pre-sunset routines. But there’s no perfect time to rise and grind—your morning alarm will depend on your own, individual rhythm. No matter when you start your day, though, there’s something to be said about including a morning ritual in your daily schedule.

Why is morning so important? The first thing you do after getting up ultimately sets the tone for the rest of your day. If you roll out of bed, half-awake, and jump right into your email, you’ll likely struggle to focus and engage, and you’ll run out of steam before too long.

If, on the other hand, you habitually make your bed, meditate, and eat a healthy breakfast each morning, your brain will learn to pivot from “rest mode” to “productivity mode” more seamlessly—and you’ll probably be in a better mood, too.

It’s up to you what you do in the morning. The goal is to kick off your day by doing the same thing—ideally, something that both aligns with your personal values and clears your mind and prepares your body for the tasks ahead.

3. Designate a “Most Important Task”

Your day will inevitably include essential tasks that don’t propel you toward your goals—taking phone calls, hopping into meetings, answering emails. To make sure these things don’t derail you, always define what you absolutely need to accomplish every day and incorporate them into your daily schedule.

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Every week, when you plan your schedule, consider your goals. What needs to get done to keep you on track? Then, choose an MIT (most important task) for each day.[4] When you know what you need to accomplish to stay on track, you’ll waste less time on non-essential work.

It helps me to schedule my most important tasks during the times I’m most focused and productive and focus on tasks that don’t require as much brain power when my energy wanes.

There’s plenty of research showing that our ability to function cognitively shifts throughout the day.[5] For most people, including me, peak productivity occurs between 9 and 11 AM, which is why I always reserve that block of time for MITs rather than less-demanding busy work like answering emails.

If your productivity levels heighten later on in the day, you can take the opposite approach. Either way, make an effort to understand your peak work times and schedule your MITs accordingly.[6]

4. Schedule Time for Things That Normally Distract You

If you’re anything like me, you end up in your inbox or on Twitter several times throughout the day (and end up staying there for far too long). There’s nothing wrong with taking breaks to check social media, and we all need to respond to emails to do our work. But these things can also be a significant distraction from the most important tasks.

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Instead of allowing yourself to mindlessly scroll, take a proactive approach by building blocks of time to engage with potential distractions. For example, your daily schedule could include time frames where you can “process” your email or social media accounts two or three times a day—once in the morning, again before lunch, and once more at the end of the day. The important thing is to treat these items like any other task—just another line item on your daily schedule—rather than allowing them to infiltrate your day.

5. Include Breaks

Every day, I schedule an hour-long lunch break and several 10 to 15-minute breaks to meditate or go for a walk. It might seem counterproductive to plan out time in your day when you’re not working, but remember that nobody has endless capacity to work at full steam, constantly. And if you try, you won’t be as productive as you want to be.

There’s scientific evidence that the occasional pause can actually enhance productivity.[7] For one thing, pausing from time to time can boost your ability to think creatively and strategically. Sometimes, the brain needs a change of scenery (and a break from constantly thinking) to come up with fresh ideas.

Scheduling breaks throughout your day also provides something to look forward to—an end in sight. When you know you’ll have a chance to rest or do something you enjoy at the end of a work block, even if only for five minutes, you’ll be much more likely to muster more energy—and focus—for the tasks at hand.

Final Thoughts

As author Mason Currey writes in her book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, a routine “fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”[8]

Even the most successful people can fall prey to getting off track. Designing your ideal daily schedule ahead of time is an essential practice for preventing distraction and prioritizing what’s most important to you. Think of your schedule as an investment in your future. It may take some time to “save up” for the life you want, but little by little, you’ll see your goals come to life.

More Tips on Organizing Your Daily Schedule

Featured photo credit: Eric Rothermel via unsplash.com

Reference

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