Giving up multi-tasking

Alexandra Durnford, founder and director of business coaching venture Byron and Wilf, gives advice on how to focus your efforts by ditching multi-tasking

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Giving up multi-tasking

Determined to practice what I preach; I decided give up ‘multi-tasking’ for 2017 (and hopefully forever). Instead, I will focus mindfully on completing tasks in a sequential manner, whilst basking in the calm and mental clarity that this approach will surely bring.

Why quit multi-tasking?

I have three very simple reasons:

1. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. Whilst we can do two things at once (i.e. walk and talk) we can’t concentrate on two things at once. We have just learnt to switch tasks so quickly that we have convinced ourselves that our brain is simultaneously processing them.

2. It doesn’t work. No surprise as it doesn’t exist. But the rapid-fire manic switching doesn’t work either.

3. In fact, manic-switching is counter-productive. It floods your brain with the stress hormone cortisol which reduces your ability to think strategically and creatively.

Do you need to try it too?

Are you back at work and feeling your stress levels rising as you contemplate your New Year to-do list? Are you wondering if you need another holiday before you can even consider tackling it?

If so, rather than promising yourself you will start getting to work earlier (and perhaps forgo brain critical sleep and exercise), you could do it differently in 2017.

How?

Focus. Focus. Focus. Laser-like. On one thing at once. Really, one thing. Not one thing in the front of your mind whilst the back battles the rest. Commit time.

I am aiming to work up from 25 minutes to a full ‘power hour’.

What do you need to do?

Identify

1. List the tasks you are trying to fulfil and their deadlines

2. Organise and prioritise:

a. Critical – My business and/or sanity is at risk unless I have done this

b. Urgent – I/my business will be much healthier/safer when this is complete

c. Ideal – doing this will make me feel significantly lighter of mind

d. Parking Lot – I need to do it. But not right now 

Organise

3. Work out how much time each task will take, when you are doing only that one thing

4. Block this time in your diary in 25 minute to hourly increments

5. Identify any resources you need to complete each task i.e. someone’s input, a document, data etc.

6. Set up to succeed – email off, phone off, something to drink, something to eat. Silence or music. It doesn’t matter. But, create your optimal environment 

Start + Finish

7. Set your timer and tackle task one 

8. Focus. When your mind wanders onto task two or three. When you are tempted to text someone, check your email, scan Amazon, write a list. Re-focus. Remind yourself you have set aside time for the other tasks 

9. Finish. Take a break. Re-set the timer. You are onto task two 

Review

10. Have you missed anything? Is anything left undone? What can you identify now that might start whirling around your head when you are meant to be ‘relaxing’?

11. How did it work? Worth another go? Can you do an extra 10 minutes? If you are now swimming in free time, you could also read The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (Dutton Books, £6.49) by Daniel J. Levitin 

Find out more about Alexandra, and Byron and Wilf, at byronandwilf.com

Photograph: iStock