What does it mean to work smarter instead of harder? In our opinion, it all comes down to avoiding multitasking at all costs. Here our tips!
Multitasking is an addiction
The first step is admitting you have a problem: that’s why I want to share my story with you.
It has been really hard for me to share this with other people but since there’s no coming back now, here’s my problem: I used to be a multitasking junkie.
Multitasking means, in essence, do several things at once. Something like “I’m talking to someone and at the same time I’m checking my e-mail”: this is multitasking. But hey, it’s not important how many tasks are overlapping as first, you will start with 2 of them, then after succeeding with those 2 you will want more… 3, 4, 7, 10, etc.
Beware, my friends, these are the first symptoms of multitasking.
When I look back at my routine before started working at Timeneye, I remember finding myself doing several things at once, especially when I was in front of the computer (at work or at home, there was no difference): the web was just a Pandora’s box of distractions and most of the time I could not resist them.
My left index was always stuck on the letter F of the keyboard, not because I learned how to type faster at school, but as it was the first letter of one of my worst obsession: Facebook. I like social media but I was not really into them or, better, I always tried to keep my privacy away from socials.
Why opening a new tab, pressing “F” and then “Enter” was my routine?
Usually, when I start to write an article I always try to make a list of tasks in Basecamp: researching, writing, choosing an image, spell checking and formatting (upper case, paragraphs, etc.). But, every time I was about to finish one phase, it always happened that a friend wrote me on Whatsapp, a new notification from Product Hunt appeared, a new email arrived, the postman rang to give me the new juice extractor machine to start the detox diet that I downloaded just a few minutes before…
For several months, I’ve tried the deleterious effect of multitasking on my skin: writing an article took me twice as long as it should, but why?
I could not answer to this question.
I had literally too many distractions: one day they were recipes, the other one Casey Neistat’s vlogs, the following one I had to compulsively choose my new extractor. Damn, that juice extractor machine!
After I started working for a time tracking company, Timeneye, I began to realize that I couldn’t go on like that anymore.
“Giovanni, now you are working for a time tracking company: stop fooling yourself and those around you.” — sincerely, your brain.
It was September 2014 and it was time to end that situation.
Why is multitasking bad?
Earlier in this article, I said that multitasking was like a drug for me, and what is the main symptom of a drug?
That’s right, the addiction!
According to professor Clifford Nass from Stanford University, people who usually do many things at the same time every day find it hard to break away from that habit. And even when they should focus and relax they aren’t able to do so as they cannot put their attention where it needs to be.
The brain has some kind of control center, like in the movie “Inside Out”, where all the information arrives and where is decided how and when to process it. Unfortunately, our minds in the history of evolution have never found themselves having to deal with such a large amount of data and information, and if we are not careful we could easily go haywire.
Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, RSS feeds, mobile, chat and so on, they are all contributing to mess up our control center.
This is why the temptation to check your phone or your email every few minutes is very strong, even if you have all the notifications on and that stupid accordion jingle assigned to new Whatsapp message ringtone.
According to a Stanford research, employees who use computers check their e-mail 37 times… every hour! More than one every two minutes.
The brain does not understand the concept of multitasking: it is not capable of doing two things at the same time. What this does is actually constantly change from one task to another, giving us the illusion that he is making two or more.
The result? The brain needs to slow down to handle this overload. According to an MIT study, the brain loses about 10 IQ points when you are doing three or more things at once!
So if you’ve always seemed to be able to do more things at the same time, I have some bad news for you: it’s just the brain that is fooling you.
Our brain is designed to focus on a single thing, not to roam over more tasks. Now that you know why you are multitasking, let’s see how to solve this issue!
Close the damn Facebook!
I want to make you a question: do you really need to stay connected to Facebook day and night?
Do not think that I hate social networks, I believe they are fantastic tools to keep in touch with friends and receive updates (for example those of Timeneye or Mindcheats that inspired me to write this article😉). But they have a dark side too: Facebook is one of the best allies of multitasking, and also the worst enemy of your productivity.
There is no doubt that whoever is using a computer or laptop is more exposed to these risks. I usually stay in front of my laptop for 10–12 hours every day: working, studying for my online basic Chinese course, and learning how to make cool Despicable Me glasses for my girlfriend’s graduation.
I soon realized that I was doing too many things at the same time to be really productive. At that moment I started to research articles about the consequences of multitasking. After reading what I have just explained to you, I finally decided to follow some simple rules and force myself at first to respect them.
I kept saying to myself: “You do not need to check e-mails every two minutes”. My simple rule was: only three or four times a day of email checking is allowed.
I also decided to give myself some rewards (motivation is always key), but only after completing what I had to do first: these included checking my favorite websites, the Facebook feed, and other social networks for 10 minutes.
You might ask: what shall I do before start writing an article? Well, just open the Word, Medium or WordPress page you have to work on and nothing else.
“The more tabs you open, the more updates you receive, and the less productive you will be.”
This also applies to all other electronic devices, especially mobile phones. SMS, Whatsapp messages or the latest notification from TopEleven telling you that the auction for the Central Midfielder Rukka Jannaski has ended, kills concentration. Turn off the phone, or, at least, put it in airplane mode until you’ve finished what you need to do.
Creating a clear distinction between time spent working and the one devoted to leisure is essential to have a work/life balance. This applies to everything, not just for your computer! If you’re doing something, do not let anything distract you.
Since I have quitted with multitasking, my productivity has soared.
Remember: doing many things simultaneously wreaks havoc with the brain which cannot longer be able to sort all tasks in an appropriate manner.
Keep jumping with your attention from place to place does not allow the brain to concentrate for a long period of time the same task, causing a significant drop in productivity.
My last advice: start simple and, if you need help, make sure to have a look at these tools:
- Stayfocusd: this great browser add-on simply blocks every website you should not visit. This is a must when starting your multitasking rehab. “Shouldn’t you be working?”
- Unroll.me: tired of daily email reminders and forgot how to unsubscribe? This great tool helps you to remove email subscriptions in just a few clicks.
- Zero App: Why should you care about the new promotion on the new Volkswagen, when you‘ve just bought the new Tesla car? This app is the best way to get to inbox zero.
- Timeneye: don’t be afraid to have a look at where your working hours really go. You should start somewhere but, without having a clear overview on how you are spending your time, it will be impossible to improve the quality of your work. Time tracking with Timeneye will definitely be a game changer for your productivity.
Are you recovering from a multitasking problem? If yes, share your tricks and tips in the comment section below!