Multitasking, a term frequently used to denote the process of serial tasking, is often employed to increase productivity. However, as I indicated in my previous post on the topic, recent research indicates that productivity can actually be blunted by multitasking. If this is the case, then what strategies can boost productivity?
- Create a list of what tasks you need to accomplish, prioritize the tasks, and make a reasonable plan. Making a list can help you see everything you need to get done and can help you decide where to start. Plan to address the tasks that need to be accomplished first. This will help you avoid randomly starting tasks that are less important. Decide when you will accomplish the tasks and in what order. Be sure to leave a few blocks of time open in your plan to accommodate unexpected situations that arise.
- Focus on one task at a time. Tune out distractions and put all of your focus into accomplishing the particular task before you. It may be helpful to silence your phone or turn off your computer if these technologies are not important to that task on which you are working.
- Reconsider what needs to be addressed immediately and what constitutes a crisis. Many events will interrupt you throughout the day; decide ahead of time what sort of interruptions need to be seen to right away and which can wait.
- Keep a notepad on hand. If distracting thoughts come to mind about additional tasks you need to get done, write them down so you remember to attend to them later but are not preoccupied by them now.
Does multitasking ever increase productivity?
I believe that true multitasking (i.e., where the two tasks use different types of brain processing and one of the tasks is so well learned that it can be completed without much thought) can be useful. For example, my husband and I recently purchased an exercise bike. I have found that I can ride the bike in the morning while reading my Bible and praying. It doesn’t take much thought to pedal, so I can truly concentrate on what I’m reading. Additional ways I’ve found multitasking to be useful include making to-do lists or adding to grocery lists while waiting in line or on hold on the phone and talking on the phone with friends or family while folding clothes.
I also believe that completing similar tasks in a serial fashion can be effective. According to researchers, productivity is lost in multitasking during transition times—it takes too much time to switch tasks and refocus your attention. Thus, I believe that completing similar tasks that require very little time or thought to transition between can be completed efficiently. For example, I’ll have something cooking on the stove that requires occasional stirring. In between stirs, I’ll work on unloading the dishwasher. Both of these tasks are completed in the same room and neither requires in-depth thought. Another example is putting clothes in the dryer and then going to clean the bathroom. They dryer will be done about the same time I’m done with the cleaning, allowing me to hang or fold the clothes before they wrinkle. In both of these examples, productive time isn’t lost when switching between two tasks.
What strategies boost your productivity? Do you find multitasking to be beneficial in any particular scenario?