If you look at the job description for many positions, you will find “the ability to multitask” as one of the desired skill sets. Employers believe that multitasking improves productivity in the workplace. Is the ability to multitask really a productive skill? Do you really get more done by doing more than one thing at a time or is the true skill the ability to switch between tasks more appropriate?
Take a look at your work day. How many interruptions do you face at any given time? Do subordinates, coworkers and management stand in line at your desk waiting to speak to you? E-mails, phone calls and co-workers all conspire to take a moment or multiple moments of your day. With only two hands, the best way to be productive is to work on one task at a time. Here are some tips on what to do to improve your productivity in a multitasking world.
Set clear expectations of your availability. In some companies, management is expected to fully utilize the open door policy which makes them accessible to staff. In the real world, however, this accessibility often results in poor management performance. The manager, while practicing the open door policy, is unable to get any of their own work completed. By setting clear expectations of your availability, you can cut down on the impromptu interruptions.
Consider setting aside one on one meeting times with your staff. Make it clear to the rest of the staff that once the door is closed, they are not to interrupt you unless it is a true emergency. Make sure you define what constitutes an emergency. By having one on one uninterrupted meetings with your staff, you will reduce their need to try to “catch a moment of your time”. They will understand that at least once a week or bi-weekly, they will have your uninterrupted attention.
Keep an eye on your calendar. Never schedule a meeting without your calendar in hand. This will prevent you from overbooking or over crowding your schedule. If you do not have your calendar in hand, make a note and let the other person know that you will get back to them. Give yourself at least thirty minutes to an hour in between meetings. This will allow debriefing time so that you can fully focus on the next meeting. If you have a group of days that contain multiple meetings, schedule "meeting free" days in between so that you can catch up on the other work in your office.
Multitasking is an impossible myth. With only two hands and one brain, it’s impossible to give your full attention to two different tasks at once. It’s time to stop thinking of multitasking as a skill. Think of multitasking as actually being able to switch between different tasks completely and provide each task with your full attention until you come to a natural breaking point or the time you have designated to work on the project has lapsed. Once you come to think of the process as task switching instead of multitasking, you fill find that you are more productive in your work day.