The temptation to multitask is almost inescapable. Multitasking makes us feel like we’re getting more done, in large part because it is more taxing on our brains. But scientific studies have shown that we can’t even think about more than five to nine simple objects at a time. Switch simple objects out for entire projects, and things start to go south very fast.
Trying to multitask can actually cut our efficiency by 40 percent. That’s a number worth paying attention to.
It’s easy to understand how multitasking hurts our ability to get things done, but it’s not easy to cut the habit, and even harder to convince your team to stick to one thing at a time. What can we do to cut out that lag that robs our time as we switch back and forth between projects?
1. Create a To-Do List
If it ever starts to feel like setting up project management software is just a waste of time, remember that figure, forty percent. It may take a few hours of your time to plan ahead and set up tasks, but is it taking up 3.2 hours per day for every single person on your team?
When time is allocated, we know how to spend it. We don’t waste time mindlessly switching from one task to another. And that’s a good thing, because it takes a full 15 minutes to fully recover from a switch between tasks.
If you give your employees vague instructions, they will find ways to waste time. This is a problem, but it’s not their fault. Take the time to tell your employers exactly what they should be working on during each part of the day. This helps keep them focused, so that they actually work on the task at hand.
Of course, the better your project management system, the more quickly you can set up to-do lists and share them with your team, so that you can spend even less time planning, and more time doing.
Even better, encourage your team to create personal to-do lists each morning. With file-sharing technology, you can keep track of their to-do lists with random check-ups. This gives them an even more granular way to budget there time, so that multitasking doesn’t become a problem.
2. Batch Repetitive Tasks
Very few employees need to repeatedly check their email all day long. It’s generally a good idea to encourage your employees to shut off their email notification systems (as well as any instant messaging, Facebook notifications, or anything similar). Switching back and forth between email and other tasks is a huge waste of time.
Instead, encourage your employees to choose specific times of day to answer email, rather than answering them as they come. (If your business is involved in social media, the same holds true here).
The same goes for any other repetitive tasks. It’s easier to write twenty checks in a row than it is to pull out your checkbook and write in it twenty different times a day. If you have to do something more than once, it’s probably something that you should be doing all at once.
3. Use Time-Tracking
We offer time-tracking tools, but we strongly believe that time-tracking is useful for more than just budgeting. By encouraging accurate time-keeping, you are actually encouraging your employees to pay close attention to where their time is going. This helps them become more aware of their habits.
When it comes to multitasking, this is especially helpful. Whenever an employee has to take a deliberate action in order to record their time, and how they switched from one project to another, they are also more likely to stop and think about whether that switch is really necessary.
With the inability to record doing two things at once, you also discourage employees from dividing their attention and wasting time as a result.
Of course, time tracking of this magnitude is useless if your employees are discouraged from even using it in the first place. Time-keeping interfaces need to be simple and easy to use in order for them to be adopted. Furthermore, you need to make sure the incentives are in place to encourage use.
4. Track Ideas Instead of Letting Them Become Distractions
It’s all well and good to ask employees to focus on a single task at a time, but we are human and sometimes our thoughts stray. Many of our stray thoughts our useless, but when they aren’t, sometimes that’s actually a bigger issue.
It’s easy to dismiss a stray thought if it isn’t important. But if it’s an idea for a project or something that we forgot to take care of, it’s tempting to interrupt what we’re doing. As we’ve discussed, this slows things down. Worse, if we don’t interrupt everything, we may find ourselves thinking about the distraction all day, concerned that we’ll forget about it.
Instead, encourage your employees to record ideas as soon as they come to mind and then get right back to work. This helps assure them that the idea will be taken care of, while focusing on the task at hand.
For the little things, a pen and paper will do the trick. But for project-level ideas, it’s better to give employees an outlet to share the idea without needing to interrupt there own work, or others. You can accomplish this fairly easy with project requests.
Multitasking is a waste of time. We hate to hear it, because the temptation to multitask is so strong, especially in the digital millennium. Fortunately, there are things we can do to fight the urge to multitask.
By planning ahead and tracking our progress, we can encourage better time management habits naturally and simply. Project management transforms technology from a distraction into a tool, so that the next time somebody wastes 40 percent of their day switching between tasks, it won’t be your employees.
Does your organization need help managing projects more effectively? Check out WorkZone web-based project management software and collaboration tools.