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What is one of the biggest reasons for low productivity at the workplace?
Low morale, skill gap, lack of experience, lack of interest…
All those are correct answers, but there is one more reason why you end up being less productive
The illusion of multi-tasking
This might seem counterintuitive, right?
Multi-tasking should allow you to achieve more, correct?
But in most cases, it is the other way around. You tend to achieve less when you are trying to juggle too many things
Many professionals consider it as their strength and some of them even list it as a skill on their resume
But let me ask you something:
Is multi-tasking really a skill?
Let’s go one step further: Is there any such thing as multi-tasking or is it just a myth?
Here’s my take on it:
By definition, multi-tasking simply means doing more than one task at the same time
But in true sense, we cannot do two active things at the same time
The key word is active. Active means your complete involvement and attention– physically, mentally, emotionally
You can do two things at the same time when one of them is a passive task
For example, running and listening to music:
Running is an active task
Listening to music in this case is a passive task
Let’s take another example:
Walking and taking a phone call from the office. In this case, it might appear that both tasks are active, but that’s not true
When you are walking, then your complete focus is on the activity of walking. But then you suddenly get a call from the office – now your attention shifts to the phone call and walking almost becomes passive. You are no more watching your body movement or enjoying your surroundings while walking, as your focus is on the phone call now
Here’s another example:
You are in an office meeting and also making a presentation for the next meeting. If you are focusing on the presentation, then chances are you are not paying much attention to the meeting. So making the presentation becomes an active task and listening to the meeting becomes passive
I would not say that it is impossible, but it is very difficult to do more than one active task at the same time
So when we refer to multi-tasking in daily parlance, what we essentially mean is doing more than one thing within a short span of time – doing one activity, then moving on to another activity, then return to the original activity and so on
You move your focus and attention from one thing to another within a short period of time
When we operate in this manner, it gives us the illusion of accomplishing more, but the truth is that in most cases, we end up achieving less
When we rapidly shift our focus from one thing to another, we end up losing momentum and our chain of thoughts. This also means that we end up needing more time to adjust and recalibrate every time we try to juggle
You might start multiple activities, but not necessarily complete all – this again gives us the illusion of doing more
And even if we do get things completed, in many cases, the quality or output may not be as good as we would have wanted to
So what’s the solution?
Ditch multi-tasking, switch to mono-tasking
Focus on one thing and only one thing at a time and get it done!
Mono-tasking means a change in the way you operate, plan and think. It requires a change in your behavior and habits, which ofcourse is not easy. And making it a habit will come with practice and patience
So how should you go about mono-tasking?
The best way to mono-task is by prioritization and setting boundaries
Prioritization means to decide which task to pick up first
Now there are several ways you can achieve this, and you can try one of these to see which one works for you:
1) Pick up the most important task on hand and complete it
2) Pick up the easiest task on hand and get it over
3) Pick up a task which can be done immediately (such as replying to an email) and get it done
Once one task is complete, repeat the above with the remaining tasks on hand
Prioritization also means when to do a task
Let me tell you another productivity hack:
Pick up the time of the day when you are most energetic and try to align the most important task with that time. You will be most productive during this time. When you try to do something when you are most active (mentally, physically, emotionally), chances are that it will take less time and you will be more creative
Now that may not be possible all the time, but whenever you can, try to implement it
On the contrary, if you do something when you are low on energy, the same task may take more time with lower quality of output
It’s important to recognize that we all have our unique biological clocks – some of us are very active early in the morning, some mid-morning and so on. Some of us are not morning person at all!
So start observing your own body and over time, you will become aware of the time period of the day when you are most active
The other thing important while mono-tasking is to set boundaries – what you will NOT do when you start a task e.g. not looking at emails or your phone constantly
You will be tempted to switch between activities, and that is where setting boundaries will help
Getting one thing done also gives us a sense of accomplishment (no matter how small the task is)
So don’t get carried away by the illusion which multi-tasking creates
Start mono-tasking instead
Do one thing at a time and do it really well. Then move to the next one
Hope this will help you become more productive over time