Tony Schwartz explains that as it turns out, there really is no such thing as a good multi-tasker. Yes, we all have the capacity to tackle more than one task at a time (or, more likely, the capacity to rapidly go from one task to another).
But most of us do not have the capacity to do go from one task to another well.
In fact, switching from one task to another increases the time it takes to finish that task by 25%. Our attempts to increase productivity by consistently taking on more, may actually be decreasing productivity in the long run.
Schwartz outlines some powerful tips on how those in leadership roles can cultivate a “single-tasker” mentality:
- Schedule shorter meetings
Cutting your meetings down to 45 minutes (rather than an hour) keeps participants focused and engaged. It also affords them time afterward to absorb what was discussed and refocus their attention before their next commitment.
In fact, most people will organize themselves to fit whatever time you give them to do something. So, consider reducing the time of meetings and see if the don’t become even more productive. For example, people in a 30-minute meeting may be more focused and attentive because of the relatively shorter timeframe than the average 60-minute meeting.
- Stop demanding instant responsiveness
Your colleagues have lives too! Expecting instant responses from people undermines their ability to sustain their attention on their own priorities. Emails should be shut off at a certain time and calls/texts should be limited to urgent matters.
If you do find that people in your organization are frequently emailing or texting others before/after hours or on weekends, you may want to assess whether they’re managing their time effectively, or if they possibly have too many goals and not enough resources.
- Facilitate rejuvenation
Set aside a window of time each day devoted to your employees’ well being. Encourage them to step out of their workflow and take some time for them. You’d be surprised at what a group walk, meditation session, or even just some “me time” can do for office productivity. In fact, Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute (and others) have found that brief breaks throughout a day may actually be the key to better focus and sustained energy.
- Do the most important tasks first thing, uninterrupted
60-90 minutes productivity sprints (with a clear start/stop time) first thing in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. The more absorbed you can be in these sprints, the better — try working in a private space with noise cancelling headphones. Productivity tools like Forest and Tomato Timer can help you stay on track.
But even using a simple timer on your phone can help you focus during those time periods. If you set the timer for an hour but notice you’re losing focus before then, note how much time is your focus “sweet spot” and adjust your “sprints” accordingly
- Take REAL vacations
Eating lunch at your desk staring at your palm tree screensaver doesn’t count. If possible, schedule vacations several times a year and make the necessary arrangements to ensure you’re truly disconnected from work.
Taking regular vacation time boosts productivity overall and keeps you mentally and emotionally healthy. If you’re one of those types who finds planning a week away to create more stress than it relieves, consider taking long weekends and occasional days off instead. Check out the micro-vacation movement — vacations don’t have to be big to be significant to your health and happiness.
Question: What is one thing you can do to improve your focus at work?