BRUSSELS (Brussels Morning) – It’s a hype: the more things you can do at once, the more successful you are. Even companies ask about it in job interviews. But our brains can’t really do several things at the same time. Multitasking is therefore actually impossible and mainly a matter of being able to switch quickly.
Our brain works best when we can focus completely on one task at a time. Doing several things at once is much less efficient than doing them in quick succession.
We can do several things at the same time, for example read the newspaper during breakfast. But that only works because we eat on autopilot and only have to concentrate on reading. As soon as you have to focus on two things at once, things usually go wrong. That is why it is best not to conduct an intensive telephone conversation while driving.
Our brains can even become ‘overheated’ from multitasking: the so-called Information Overload phenomenon is becoming more common. Too many stimuli at the same time can even lead to psychological or physical complaints. Therefore … these 8 tips to get everything done anyway.
1. Making choices does work
Our working memory can only contain one element at a time. If we need to remember more elements, we store them in our long-term memory. As a result, retrieving that information takes more time and leads to more errors. This is the conclusion of Jelmer Borst from his research into multitasking for the University of Groningen. He showed that multitasking can only be efficient as long as several elements do not have to be memorised at the same time. Multitasking therefore requires making choices.
2. Bundling tasks
We are most productive when we can focus on the most important task. This can be done by bundling similar tasks, which is not the same as multitasking. Clustering your work creates rhythm, increases your effectiveness and immediately shows you exactly how much you get done in a day.
3. Set your priorities
Make a to-do list in the morning and stick to it. When you have done what you planned in the evening, you have a greater sense of control. Make sure to start with the tricky tasks. Many people multitask throughout the day because they hesitate not to start doing the less fun things.
4. Don’t get distracted
How often do you start something – before it’s finished – to be busy with something else? Stay where you are until you complete a task. Avoid interruptions by, for example, working with time blocks when you can be reached by colleagues or telephones.
5. Eliminate obstacles
Provide a systematic and pleasantly furnished workplace. Or find a quiet place to work. Almost every office (or house) offers the possibility to withdraw for a while, in order to get to work and stay focused.
6. Separate work and private life
Your personal matters deserve attention, but not during work. It is best to plan a BBQ after office hours. Your friends can call you in the morning on the train or during your lunch break. Do everything you can to avoid having private matters during your work.
7. Dare to ask for help
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from your colleagues when you really need it. Sometimes multitasking is an impossible attempt to squeeze a week of work into one day, and no one wins.