Is productive multitasking an oxymoron?

Gone are the days of joking over whether a person can walk and chew gum at the same time. The real test of a good employee in today's job market is their ability to send email while on a conference call - all in the midst of typing up that new client contract.

Multitasking is fast becoming as essential of a skill on a resume as our ability to work productively. But can the two of these truly coexist at the same time?

Research says no. In fact, past studies on dual- and multi-tasking performance indicate that it actually takes more time for us to complete two or more tasks simultaneously when compared to these tasks being performed independently: "The average US company loses 2.1 hours of employee productivity per day as a result of work interruptions and multitasking behavior."

This statistic is primarily a result of the fact that it takes an individual an average of 10 to 20 times the length of the original interruption to return to their task - if they return to it at all.

You may think that with a little time and practice, multitasking gets easier. In reality, the more you jump between tabs on your web browser, the worse off you are.

Fortunately, there is a cure for multitasking: Don't do it.

Easier said than done, we know, which is why we've provided these five strategies to put you on the right path.

  • Prioritize your tasks. This is an essential first step in being more productive. Write down your to-do list and prioritize each task into three categories: "must dos," "should dos" and "could do later." Aim to work in order and get through at least the first two categories by the end of the day. Move the remaining tasks up on your list for tomorrow.
  • Focus on one piece of technology. Whether it's your phone, your computer or that everlasting invention called paper and pencil, choose your one form of technology and shut everything else down. No interruptions allowed!
  • Then, narrow it down further. Don't be texting while talking on the phone, or emailing while drafting an important document on the computer. Focus on one program, one task within your chosen technology, and don't let anything else distract you from it.
  • But what if you need to use two? Thanks to the plethora of information being passed around online, we often need an open web page or email in order to work on that important document. If that is the case, only have open that single web page or email you need to work productively. Keep the Facebook tab or favorite news site closed down.
  • See it through from start to finish. Your goal should be to be able to fully check off the task on that to-do list. Don't stop until it's completed to your satisfaction.

The prospect of implementing all these strategies can be daunting at first. Challenge yourself to try them out for at least one week. We're willing to bet you'll see an immediate difference.

What are your strategies for multitasking - avoid it or embrace it?

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