How to let go of multitasking – from a recovering multitasking addict
It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me…
Do you ever feel stuck in a game of endless pings, and the first thought that pops into your head when you see a bunch of notifications is to throw your laptop or your phone out the window? No, just me?
The great minds on the internet say that humans can’t multitask – they can only switch from one task to another. Which is correct; we can’t. According to Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, our brains are just not wired that way:
“When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”
The problem with multitasking (or our attempts at it) is that we get stressed and overwhelmed with the number of pinxgs or emails to which we must reply to them as soon as humanly possible.
By completing these small tasks, we get the feeling that we are doing a lot more than we actually are, which in turn means that multitasking makes us feel more accomplished. But as you run on your multitasking high, it gets challenging to organize your thoughts and decipher what information is relevant and how to prioritize your work.
Here are a few tips to help you switch less between tasks.
A To-Do list
This one feels like a no-brainer, but it’s a staple for a reason. So, first thing in the morning, check all pings/emails/tasks and make a note of all the tasks that need attention that day. Sort them by priority and see which ones can be left for another day.
If you expect to be pinged for other shorter projects or tasks, note that, too, as it could distract you during your day. Adding additional tasks during the shift is okay, but be mindful not to lose focus of your priorities.
Solve one thing before moving to the other
This can’t be emphasized enough, but if you constantly switch or ” multitask” between projects or write different emails, the chance of finishing either is close to zero.
When I finish a task or write an email, I document what was done in that task immediately. If it is an ongoing task, I like to write the next steps to know what needs to be done next time. After I finish my documentation, I can focus on the next project with more clarity. And it makes for neat documentation.
Ever felt guilty that you can’t reply to all of your pings/emails /mentions immediately, even if you know how to solve them? If that is the case, reference your to-do list to assuage the guilt. It will help you visualize what you are focusing on and why, track what has been done so far, and determine if one of those mini-tasks is already on your list. If not, they get a spot… somewhere down the line.
Mute all notifications when focusing
I hate the sound of incoming messages when working on something and knowing they are waiting for me. It makes me want to close Teams, Slack, and every other channel.
Well, why not? It will help you to focus on your project and collect all your thoughts in one place. And you can put answering messages on your To-do and know you’ll get around to it.
Make a little reward system for yourself. Get a task done, pat yourself on the shoulder for work well done, and let yourself fall into the void of watching pandas and capybara videos for a while.
When pings are a part of your job
When working in support or a similar role with on-call duties, it is hard to focus when you constantly need to check if something popped up and requires your immediate attention. What works for me is dedicating multiple time slots during my shift to check all the relevant emails/messages/pings/tasks. If nothing needs your immediate attention, I can carry on focusing on whatever I am doing guilt-free.
One multitasking addict to another
If you’re still stuck in the multitasking loop, riding on that fake accomplishment high, I understand entirely. I am a recovering multitasking addict myself.
What helped me the most out of everything mentioned above is making a To-Do list and solving one thing at a time, penning my progress. Both of these points involve writing things down, which helps me untangle my thoughts and focus on the essentials – the perfect antidote to a multitasking mess.