This is going to be my first blog post of 2016, and I felt it was time for a non-technical topic – akin to a yoga counterpose. Today I’m not going to let myself out on landing pages, email signatures, social media tools, and the like. What to expect instead? Lately, I’ve seen a lot of posts circulating on social media, stating that multitasking is downright killing when it comes to productivity. All the fuss inspired me to write this post and share my own thoughts on this matter.
When it comes to multitasking, people seem to hold a certain pride when they master the art of it. It’s a verb of status, or rather perceived status. To multitask literally means ‘to deal with more than one task at the same time’. Now tell me, how realistic does that sound? Yeah, I know, it’s a hackneyed verb, and we don’t put too much thought into the meaning when it pops up once again. But that’s also where it gets interesting!
If I may pose you a question, what exactly do you count as multitasking, or better yet, what do you personally experience as multitasking? It doesn’t matter what it is that comes to mind – just check for yourself if it’s multitasking in the literal sense of the word! The only instance I could think of for myself is when I am on my exercise bike and simultaneously use my phone, e.g. to post updates on social media. Everything else, when analysed, really comes out as microtasking. Whether or not the term is commonly used in this context, I bet you’re guilty of it too. (I’m quick to point my finger at you, aren’t I?!)
Microtasking – Why Is it So Tempting?
And not only is it tempting, it’s treacherous as well! We’re not always conscious of this behaviour. Microtasking is an evasive juggle act where we try to balance multiple activities by moving back and forth between them (I get why people call that ‘multitasking’). You might spend one or two minutes writing for your blog, another couple checking social media reports, and yet another few on the invoice that your client is hopefully going to pay soon… And oh, what about a little bit of research mixed in? There you go, your microtasking recipe! So what did you cook with it? My guess is not astonishingly much – you would probably have finished the individual tasks sooner, had you chosen to work on just one thing at a time.
Joking aside, doing many different things in a short time span really does trick us into believing we’re more productive. But in fact, we fragment our attention and lose time as we’re killing momentum. We actually lose time by switching alone (emphasis on the mental side)! And we don’t magically finish items faster when they’re scattered and dispersed throughout our workflow. Clearly, enforcing the microtasking practice upon ourselves – or falling victim to it – doesn’t do our efficiency justice. It also happens more easily if you have a natural tendency to be distracted or are an experienced procrastinator.
How to Get off the Micro/Multi Treadmill
Now this is the real deal, isn’t it? Obviously, a lot comes down to discipline and taking the time to develop a proper routine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t facilitate the process! Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind – they might aid you!
Consciously decide on one activity, then take distractions out of sight.
This could mean that you close (though make sure to save) all the browser tabs and programs you currently have open but don’t need to use. Don’t make it that easy to get sidetracked! Also consider putting paperwork, letters, etc., away – unless you need them. Literally. Out. Of. Sight. If you are tempted to switch between activities (because your current chore isn’t too much fun), you need to fight that resistance and simply keep going, because you can do it. It’s okay if it’s still going to take however many hours (deadlines aside). It’s okay if it’s a bumpy piece of work. As long as you don’t slack or put if off to do the easy things first. Pay attention to your attention and put thoughts about other activities away for now. Once you get the hang of it, you will find it easier to retain that kind of mindfulness!
Too many notifications? Think silent mode.
Assuming you already took notifications out of sight, it may be worthwhile to create an auditory barrier as well – it can be just as disturbing to constantly hear these noises, if not more!
Double-check your time management and be realistic about the time you need for each item on the list.
It’s extra tempting to get stuck in the trap of microtasking when you’re running late and start feeling unnerved about deadlines. “How can I get it all done?!” If you do a little bit of everything, it’s better than just one thing… right? This is often our intuitive reaction. In reality, that kinda very much depends… What if you finish nothing by doing a little bit of everything? You will feel a lot more at peace if you start in a timely fashion, so that you can assign independent, unfragmented blocks of time to each task. Again, be realistic with how much time you need to complete them (we all know how easy it is to underestimate that!). If your estimation falls short, you will still end up with a frazzled mind and a fragmented (aka microtasking) work style.
Take regular breaks.
Another pitfall is working too long (consecutive hours). If you spend too much time on your work without taking a break, it comes as no surprise that you’re tempted to switch activity!
Reward your success.
When you feel you really deserve it! Did you make progress? Did you indeed finish a task without crumbling it into tiny pieces? Well done! Once microtasking is no longer a habit, you will notice that you won’t even have to think of rewarding yourself.
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