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I’m firmly in the single-tasking camp. Or at least I have been, until I came across how we can actually multi task in a way that will not impair our productivity. Today, I’ll talk about effective multi tasking vs task switching and why you should do the former and not the latter.
What do you think of multi tasking? Does it break down your productivity? Does it make you lose concentration, impair your focus and make you less capable of finishing something on time? I hear you. And you’re not alone.
Many of us live in an era of constant distraction, permanent notifications and a barrage of information that comes at us from every direction. It’s no wonder that people are more stressed, less focused and so easily burnt out by the end of the day, right?
If you’ve read my popular post on Time Blocking, you’d know by now that I am a productivity geek. It’s a badge I wear with pride. I’ve always been time conscious (which is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to personal relationships, but that’s a story for another day!)
Scheduling Tasks – Many of them
So, here’s the thing I’ve figured out when it comes to multi tasking. It’s not bad, if done in the correct manner. I’m going to draw on my personal experience but you can easily extrapolate it to your own situation.
As a work-from-home solopreneur, I have MANY tasks on my mind on any given day, right? So, for me, schedules are everything and I do mean, EVERYTHING!
Without a schedule, a plan, a structure of sorts, I will easily go down the rabbit hole of useless activities and end up doing nothing worthwhile at the end of the day.
Here’s what I do.
The night before or early in the morning of a given day, I sit down with my notepad and pen and jot down the tasks for the day ahead. I don’t order them initially. I just list them as they come to mind. These encompass the following.
Here’s the first list of tasks: (CATEGORY A)
- Blog-related tasks
- Social Media scheduling
- Graphics creation (for myself and my clients)
- E-mail responses
- Reading a Book/ E-Book
Then come what I call tasks that I can balance: (CATEGORY B)
- Client calls
- Listening to Podcasts
- Listening to Music
Finally come the personal tasks such as: (CATEGORY C)
- Laundry: Washing/drying/folding
- Cleaning toilets and the bathrooms
- Workout /Walking
- Commuting to work (I don’t do this often but adding it here for the benefit of those who do)
I know what you’re wondering: HOW DO YOU POSSIBLY FIT IN ALL OF THAT IN 24 HOURS? We’ll talk about that next.
Balancing different tasks & Multi tasking
Now that I have my list ready, I then sit and pair off tasks that I can do simultaneously. This is where it gets interesting.
Go back and look at all the tasks I’ve listed under the first set of bullet points. Let’s call this Category A.The second set of tasks we shall label Category B. And the last one we shall label Category C.
If you notice, I can pair a task from category A to some task in category B and do them both at the SAME TIME. The same goes for tasks in B and C.
But I simply cannot do A and C tasks simultaneously. Get the drift?
Here’s what I do:
I usually listen to a podcast while I am on my walk. That’s two 30-minute activities that I can do at the same time.
Similarly, I can take a client call while I am waiting for the pasta/rice to cook. It doesn’t need me to be watching the pot, especially if I have a timer function enabled. In your case, you can take a client call on the 45-minute commute to work.
I can also listen to music to relax me while I get through the drudgery of hanging laundry out to dry or fold it to put away.
Why exactly does this work, you ask? That’s the difference between multi tasking and task switching.
When Multi Tasking becomes Task switching
I’m not a psychologist nor do I know the technical term for this, but here’s what I know.
When you set your brain to tackle two different types of tasks that don’t involve the same parts of the brain, you’re actually multi tasking effectively. For instance, you can listen to a podcast while folding laundry, because the first task requires mental agility while the latter requires automation.
But what do most of us do instead? We switch tasks and usually in very rapid succession. Result? We end up not doing anything effectively!
Think about it: How many times have you sat down to write a post on the blog or a report for your boss and then switched to a tab on your browser? Your logic is this: ‘I’ll just check and reply to that e-mail and then get straight back to work.’ Or ‘Just one quick peek at Facebook and I can get right back to this boring report!’ Right?
Here’s the problem with that. Both tasks that you are switching between are high mental-agility tasks. They require the same part of the brain to work effectively.
The challenge here is the brain cannot handle that kind of overload. So you end up starting a job, switching attention, coming back to find that you’ve lost the train of thought and have to back track. Result? You’ve wasted precious time.
Instead, if you want to focus on a mental agility task, put on your headphones and listen to instrumental music designed to help you focus. Plenty of options on YouTube to help you on this track.
So, what do you think? Do you think you can multi task effectively? Or are you task switching your way through the day? Let me know in the comments.
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