I am the official Queen of Multi-tasking. Sure, it’s a self appointed title, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I don’t know if it is the world we live in today, if its just something that is prevalent in my generation, or just my personality, but I feel like multi-tasking is in my blood.
If you peered into my window at home (please don’t) on some random weekday evening, you’d find the TV (or my iPod) playing, while I toggle back and forth between reading things online and checking emails. I’ll also be checking my voicemails and writing notes on who to call back. I will start some to-do list in between firing off several text messages and a couple of IMs.
I’m usually pretty proud of myself for being able to pull this off.
I do believe that multi-tasking is a great skill to master, and it is especially helpful if you are someone who runs a front office or if you act as a project manager which is something I do. I have to jump back and forth between calling people back as soon as possible so I don’t miss deals or clients, handling email, scheduling things that come up as a result of those emails and phone calls, plan, research, and execute. If you couldn’t multi-task, you’d probably fall apart.
But in today’s fast paced society where we tend to focus on instant gratification, a lot gets lost in our shuffling around. We work on a million different things at once and then at the end of the day wonder what we’ve done or where the time went. How many times at the end of the day have you thought “did I accomplish anything today?”
When we multi-task, we feel like we are really awesome for being able to handle so many things and so much information at once. In reality, when we engage in multi-tasking, we’re diluting our attention – so rather that one task or project getting your full attention at the time, 10 or 15 little tasks get incredibly low amounts of attention. Sometimes we lose track of the details – and details put together make up the larger picture. I believe that focusing on one thing at a time, and seeing it through to completion is likely to get a project done faster. Often times, multi-tasking just delays the completion of multiple projects – because they are ALL in a constant state of being worked on. I think I’d rather have one thing completed and scratched off my list than 10 things “in progress” carrying over from day to day.
When we are jerking our attention from one thing or another, we’re also more likely to allow interruptions from other people, which can further delay getting things done. We lose our concentration and have to figure out where we left off, or we take on whatever project Jim just dropped on our desk and increase the amount of projects we’re half working on.
Stop. Slow down. Deeeeeeeeeeep breath. Focus. Reassess.
Make a list of things to be done, preferably in priority order if you have things that need to get done by a certain hour or a specific day. It is likely that some of the things on your list will have various steps to completion, so group those things together. If you aren’t a list maker (even I have my phases of interest in them), just be aware of your behavior. Are you jumping from task to task? When the phone rings while you’re washing the dishes, do you answer? Pretty much everyone has voicemail now. Call the person back later. You’ll be more relaxed for the call, knowing the chore is complete. Flip that around – has a friend called you for advice? Sit down, listen to what s/he has to say, provide your insights, be a good friend, and tackle the dishes when the call is over.
Try, at least for a while, to focus on one thing at a time. It can be tough, especially for us “multi-task or die!” kind of people, but it sure does relieve some pressure, and at the end of the day, can probably help you feel a little more successful too.