People who can multi-task are typically seen as efficient workers. However, research shows that multi-tasking does not necessarily save time because our minds must reorient to cope with new information every time we switch tasks.
Broadly speaking, employees spend about 20-40% of their time switching from one task to another. As a result, switching tasks is likely to decrease the quality of our work and result in time wasting.
Multi-tasking (or task switching) is something we also tend to do more of when we are stressed. We try and speed up by doing lots of things at once, but it has the opposite effect. We end up busy but unproductive.
- Prioritise and focus - prioritise and then break up your day accordingly. Write down all the tasks you hope to achieve and assign a set time to do them based on their importance. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t move on to the next task until you’ve completed the previous one.
- Slow down to speed up - if you are stressed, take a step back for a moment and remind yourself that you need to slow down to speed up. Focusing on one thing at a time will get the job done much quicker.
For some people, nothing short of perfect is good enough. While this is a helpful attitude to have in terms of delivering high quality work, unless kept in check, it can lead you to waste your time on small things that don't have a big impact. And past a certain point of quality, you start to deliver less and less value for the time and effort you put in.
For example, if you have a customer that needs an 80% accurate solution, every hour you spend beyond that 80% is time wasted. And as you get closer to 100%, it takes more time to get proportionately less gain; it might take you the same amount of time to get from 0% to 50% as it does from 98% to 100% - not an efficient use of your time.
- Be methodical - avoid the temptation to focus on one small part of a task and perfect it before moving on to the next. Instead, work on completing the whole task to an acceptable standard and then return to complete any necessary re-work or touch ups afterwards.
- Be conscious of investment vs. return - always question the return you are getting for your effort. You have limited hours in the day, so don’t waste time perfecting things that have little or no impact.
- Be positive - make an effort to look at what you've done right, and don’t focus exclusively on the negatives.
Procrastination is simply putting off doing something that you should be doing because you don't want to do it - and it's something that we all do. Instead of completing a task you might complete a more favourable task instead, get lunch, get a coffee, speak to a colleague - anything but complete the task that you don't want to complete.
In small doses procrastination is fine - delaying a task by half an hour to get a coffee is not going to ruin your day - but if it means delaying important tasks and risking missing deadlines, you need to know how to motivate yourself to overcome it.
There are a number of ways that you can manage procrastination:
- Publicly commit to delivering the work - research has shown that setting deadlines and publicly committing to them is an excellent way to motivate yourself. It works because if you don't follow through on your commitments you risk looking bad to others - and we place a lot of value on the respect of others.
- Visualise the pros and cons of completing the task - reminding yourself of the positives of getting the work done helps you to see the rewards associated with doing the uninteresting work and creates more positive feelings towards the task. Reminding yourself of the consequences helps to create a sense of urgency and motivates you to take action now.
- Break big tasks down into smaller steps - sometimes the sheer size of a task discourages us from getting started. Break a task down into smaller, more manageable chunks so you can take the first step and get started.