March 2011 Newsletter

Myth: Multi-tasking Helps Me Manage My Time Effectively

March 2011 Newsletter Image

Deadlines, meetings, unanswered emails…there’s just never enough time in the day. I think we all can agree on that. I have yet to meet a client who feels like they or their workers are getting “enough” done during the day, the week or the month. So what do we turn to as the solution to what appears to be poor time management? Increasing our ability to multi-task.

With the marvels of modern technology, we can check our email, call a client and make dinner reservations as we’re walking from our office to the conference room to give a presentation that we plan to finish on our laptop while we eat our protein bar for lunch. Sound familiar? When we multi-task, we’re busy every minute of the day, so we must be getting more done, right? Wrong!


Scientific studies on multitaskingScientific studies on multitasking have found that the belief that our brains can do more than one thing at a time is a myth. Why? While we seem to be doing multiple things simultaneously, our brain is actually switching back and forth between tasks. Think of it this way. How many times have you been working on a report and someone walks into your office with a question. Once you finish with that person and you go back to your report, it takes a few minutes to get back to where you left off. When our brains switch from one task to another, our “internal CEO” is doing the same thing, and the time it takes to stop, shift focus, then switch to another task can result in us wasting around 20-40 percent of our time on that particular task.

So how do we manage our time effectively? To begin, we need two things that are the opposite of what we do when we multi-task:  

1) Stop Doing and Start Thinking
Effective time management takes time. It’s a process that requires us to reserve uninterrupted time in our schedules to assess where we are now, where we want to go, and how we’re going to get there. One strategy I recommend is writing a list of all the things we’re thinking about that need to get done and the current methods we’re using to manage them. Then, visualize and write down what a “well-managed” day would look like. All emails answered? No piles of paper on our desk? Not taking work home at the end of the day?

Change can’t happen unless we know where we’re starting from and where we want to go. Now, how do we get there?

2) Focus on the Vital Few vs. the Trivial Many
Get rid of the clutter! This is all about looking at things you really don’t need to do.  Sometimes our minds get so locked on things that we need to do without really assessing whether or not they’re important. It helps to track your timetrack your time and prioritize your tasks to see if you’re spending most of your time on high priority items (getting things done) or low priority items (simply doing things).

It’s hard to let go of the myth that doing multiple things at the same time will enable us to get more done. Being busy makes us feel productive. But unless we stop doing and start focusing and making choices according to our priorities, we’ll soon find that we’re not managing our time. Instead, our time is managing us.

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