time management

Just Say No to Multi-tasking

We live in an age of multitasking. We spend our days immersed in computers, tablets, phones and other devices that let us do ten things at once, while staying up-to-date on the latest news, sports, emails and tweets from around the world.

There’s just one problem: our brains aren’t built for multitasking.

Many people think they’re good at multitasking, but the research says it simply isn’t true. We get less done, and we do it less accurately and effectively, when we try to multitask. And the people who think they’re good at multitasking are actually the worst at it.

“Switching from task to task, you think you're actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you're actually not,” said Earl Miller, Neuroscience Professor at MIT, in an NPR article. “You're not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

This switching has a cost, in terms of time, attention and effectiveness. A study reported in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology found students were 40% slower solving complicated math problems when they had to switch to other tasks. And research by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found multitasking with electronic media temporarily reduces your IQ by 10 points. 

Instead of trying to do everything at once, try to intentionally, consciously do ONE THING AT A TIME and to completion.  What a concept?! Try time-blocking for one week and come back to tell me how much more productive you were.

What is Time Blocking?

Time blocking is a technique that involves scheduling blocks of time designated for specific actions or tasks throughout the day, week, month or year. These tasks should be associated with your short-term and long-term goals, and must be blocked out in accordance with the realistic number of hours available each day. Time blocking is a productivity technique that can help to keep your life in balance and less stressful.

At first, the idea of rigidly scheduling tasks in such a way may seem counter-intuitive. But for those of you with a build-up of assignments to get through or a tight deadline to meet, time blocking can keep you focused on your top priorities while keeping interruptions, procrastination and fruitless multitasking at a minimum.

Mental preparedness

Scheduling a task for the future allows you to be mentally prepared for it. If the task at hand is a complex one, you can prepare for each step in advance. By taking the time to plan out the task in advance, you may think of ways to complete the task that are quicker and easier.

Greater Focus on Each Task
Time blocking allows you to focus on one task at a time. You have probably already noticed a difference in your work when you focus on one thing at a time rather than trying to do multiple things at the same time. Focusing on a single task produces better results in less time.

Improved productivity
When you work in a focused manner, you improve your productivity. You will begin to mark tasks off your To-Do list in quick succession, which will make everyone happy.

Less Stress
Once you realize that your tasks are getting done, you will feel less overwhelmed and stressed, even in situations with tight deadlines.

Start by writing out 3-5 of your most important and urgent tasks along with any other necessary (though not always important) tasks that must be accomplished. Then, split those tasks into the amount of hours you will have each day (8 for most working days). Make sure to allot different-sized chunks for each task depending on how long you need to dedicate to it. Each chunk of time should be dedicated to a specific task (or set of tasks) that are important and necessary.

Google Calendar is a perfect tool for this, but a piece of paper will work just as well.

  1. Define the block of time
  2. Define the date & time
  3. Define the location
  4. Be descriptive
  5. Set reminders

Be honest
Don’t try to pack too many tasks into one day. Most people tend to underestimate how long tasks actually take. If you’ve never tracked your time before, it may take a while to get an accurate understanding of how long it actually takes to accomplish your tasks.

Schedule blocks of time for returning emails and calls
Make sure to assign blocks of time for this reactive work in order to avoid the usual distractions of answering phone calls and responding to emails.

Greatly reduce or remove distractions.
While blocking out time is a good method in theory, if you don’t stick to it in practice, then you are destined to fail. Sitting down for a couple of hours of deep focused work with a Twitter tab open, your phone notifications on, and your co-workers thinking that they can interrupt you at any time, is setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t be too specific.
This tip is based on our natural inability to realistically predict how long tasks will actually take. Keep your time blocks relatively vague, but in line with a very specific goal. For example, use “1 hour to work on ABC project” as opposed to “1 hour to write out my top 5 objectives”. That’s the cool thing about time-blocking…you just need to generalize your blocks and then get into action.