Everyone has a work style that suits their individual needs. For some people, working on a written piece, while eating lunch, while petting the dog helps them stay sharp and efficient. For others, a one-at-a-time approach is the only way to finish something. There’s nothing wrong with falling anywhere on this spectrum. What can become more of a hindrance than a help, however, is the idea of multi-tasking as a demonstration of hard work. That’s why Stopping Multitasking is our third biggest challenge.
There’s ample research showing that multi-tasking can often reduce productivity, as well as mental stamina. It takes time for the mind to process a switch from one focus to another, which burns energy you might need. So, every time you go from writing an email, to reading an article, to grabbing a snack — without completing one of those tasks in-full — you expel more energy.
Why, then, is multitasking — and the ability to do it “well” — so often considered a skill? For the person multitasking, it can create an adrenaline rush, making you feel more productive than perhaps you are. For an onlooker, it may look impressive that you’re able to “shift gears” so quickly. But are you really producing quality work?
We’ve identified some tips for both group work and individual work, which can help mitigate multitasking brain exhaust. To organize our tasks and assign time limits to them, we use Manic Time. Trello is another helpful project organizer, which allows you to assign tasks to yourself and your teammates, as well as due dates. It’s important to assign a lead to each workflow, so you know who’s responsible for organization within that project.
When it comes to meetings, it’s important to identify them as work items — i.e. things that require your full attention. They necessitate preparation, concentration, and follow-up effort, so it’s important to block out time for all of those steps. Each day, look at your calendar and assess how much time you need for meetings, as well as the associated work. Be realistic; if a meeting is two hours long, chances are, you’ll be a bit drained afterward. Don’t plan on completing a major project after a long meeting, or you’ll set yourself up for disappointment.
It’s also important to be realistic about what requires a meeting, and what could simply be an email or Trello discussion. There’s no sense in adding extra time or effort to projects that don’t require face-to-face steps. A lead is especially crucial when it comes to meeting organization. The lead can identify who’s actually needed in a meeting, so as to avoid wasting people’s time. The lead can keep track of what’s discussed, and add the meeting minutes to Confluence (a collaborative documentation tool we love).
We’ve also begun a process called “Pull and Release,” which is where a lead pulls someone into a meeting to discuss a finite topic, and then releases them once their piece is complete. This way, multiple people don’t have to participate in entire meetings, and can spend time and energy on more pressing topics. Meeting etiquette should mirror your most focused project etiquette. Silence all distractions, like texts, Slack notifications, or other apps. Take notes, engage with your teammates, and save answering emails for after the meeting.
- Select one project or task you want to focus on
- Set a time for 25-30 minutes and work exclusively on that project
- Take a two-three-minute break
This very focused approach helps quiet outside noise, while still allowing you the freedom to touch on multiple projects in one day.
The bottom line? Trying to do too much at once is not the answer, nor does it make you cool or impressive. Sometimes, it’s important to let the tortoise have its moment.