We see you, over there dealing with a work call and writing a report at the same time. Or running a meeting while replying to your text messages.
If anyone asks you about this, you will proudly announce that you’re “multitasking,” and the response may be admiration.
With so many tasks on our plate every day, knocking out two or three of them at the same time certainly appears efficient, if you can manage it.
But is multitasking all it’s cracked up to be?
Turns out it isn’t. Here are the reasons why, and what you can do instead.
The Problem With Multitasking
It makes you feel and look efficient, but how much is really getting accomplished when you multitask?
The answer is…not much. Here’s why.
For one thing, it makes you feel stressed and anxious. By the end of the day, you feel like you’ve been working extremely hard, yet you haven’t been able to successfully cross out any task from your to-do list. And adding the same item to tomorrow’s to-do list becomes stressful to say the least.
The research shows that we have only a finite amount of willpower available to us to take on tasks everyday. So if you have used all your energy on navigating between various tasks, there’s none left over to actually finish anything.
For proof of this, look no further than the clean sock experiment.
The Clean Sock Experiment
Back in the 70s, researchers looked at the habits of students, assuming that there would be a positive correlation between students that had clean socks and those that were able to turn in a homework assignment on time. To the shock of the researchers, they found exactly the opposite, prompting a psychologist to jokingly remark, “Apparently, the students could either get their homework done or change their socks every day but not both.”
And that’s why focusing on finishing a task before picking up another one makes sense. One of the best strategies for focusing on tasks is known as batching.
What Is Batching?
Batching is a time management strategy that eliminates the massive productivity suck of multitasking.
Instead of trying (and failing) to do everything at once, batching is a process in which you group similar items on your to-do list together and block out a time to accomplish them all at once.
As an example, let’s say you have ten items on your list to pick up from the grocery store. You wouldn’t drive to the store to get one of them, come home and start vacuuming, then leave to go get the next item on your list, until you’ve driven to the grocery store ten separate times. This is a huge waste of time. Instead, you would go to the grocery store, purchase all ten items at once, and THEN do the vacuuming.
This is the principle behind batching.
5 Tips to Start Batching Your Work
Interested in trying batching instead of multitasking? Next time you’re faced with a long to-do list, try these tips to break your bad habits of multitasking.
1. Write down your tasks
Batching will only work for you if you can make it a habit to write a list of the goals you want to accomplish. This can be on a daily or weekly basis, but it is best if you make it a habit at the end or the beginning of the day/week to write them down.
The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down
– Adam Savage, Mythbusters
2. Group similar tasks or break large tasks into sub-tasks
This is where a batch is born. Whatever gets grouped together in this stage should be tackled in the same block of time. So any task that will require more time than you can reasonably focus on it might be a good candidate to be broken into segments or sub-tasks.
One of the easiest ways to sort your tasks by priorities is to use a simple scoring system. And no, you don’t need to research that right now. It’s as simple as assigning a number to represent the importance of completing this task. I like to use small numbers such as 1-5
When you create a long to-do list, many times your top priorities are nested within a longer list of items that are far less important.
– Tim Ferriss
4. Block time on your calendar
Start with scheduling a time to complete the most time-consuming item on your list. Decide on a realistic amount of time to complete the task, and block it out so you won’t have any distractions.
An easy batch to start with is emails. Instead of responding to emails throughout the day, block out a time just to deal with email, and nothing else.
Email isn’t going away. The key to going into your email program with missions in mind is to make sure you set up a structure that allows you to stay focused on those missions.
– Mike Vardy
Or a more modern batch would be for scheduling your Zoom calls. Think of setting up “office hours” where you are available to take calls during specific times of the day or week.
Prox offers an easy way to add office hours that sync with your Google, Apple, or Outlook calendar. Then when you send people your Prox profile link, they can only book time to meet with you during your set office hours.
Once you’ve started batching instead of multitasking, you’ll feel the immense satisfaction of watching your to-do list dwindle, along with your stress.