Multi-tasking Overhyped

I see a lot of Job descriptions, which proudly mention a line in there, mentioning “Should be able to multi-task in this role”. Till last year, I was projecting myself as a multi-tasking person in the interviews. I didn’t lie though, was indeed multi-tasking.

Honestly, I was proud of that.

Despite being a multi-tasking person, I still was stressed about work. Work used to get piled up and after a while it made me wonder, how I always ended up in such a position?. And So, my inquest began. I started reading a lot of productivity articles and watched endless motivation videos, maintained a to-do list, organized as much as possible, and yet something wasn’t right.

This article is an attempt to throw some light on a few of the techniques I adapted which proved considerably effective.

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What really is Multitasking?

According to many, it was concentrating on more than one task at the same time. Can we do that? From observing myself, I was working on task A for few minutes and then task B for few minutes. Basically was just switching between the two. Not that I did both of them at the same time. But context-switch was rapid. Can a person really switch this fast? Looks like many in my field, including myself have been guilty of doing this.

Let me explain to you with few examples,

  1. My project1 colleague would ping me on something, I would give them the required info over chat. Meanwhile, I would be asked something else on project 2 and almost instantaneously I would switch myself there to answer.
  2. I chat regularly with my team members, attending to their questions, whilst in meetings, and often end up without following the meeting.

As I sought a solution from within, I came across a book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport where he has mentioned how undistracted work looks like. What really happens when we multi-task or context-switch? When we switch back and forth between tasks, we are switching our attention from one to another, leaving an attention residue.

You might have realized, sometimes when you moved on to another task, Your mind might still be going back to the previous task.

For me, multitasking proved to be a killer. I was busy switching my brain from context to context without letting it focus on one. As a result of context switching, I drained all my energy. Even when I had the intention to concentrate on just one task, my mind which was switching all this time continued to wander.

Our attention is very limited. How efficient it is, depends on how less we load it with.

After understanding my issues with multitasking, I employed few strategies which might be helpful for you:

1. Listen in meetings

I have now made it a habit to sit and listen when in a meeting even if I am unable to grasp it fully. I just listen to the speaker. By doing this, am taking awareness from the mind to the speaker. Typing my colleagues or attending to their needs during meetings is a big “NO”. Although am not perfect, I try to stick to it. Telling myself that am going to just listen has been such a relief. Looks like I was suffocating myself with multi-tasking. LOL

2. Batching

I was checking emails quite a lot, now I check emails just thrice a day. One less task to context switch. When I start to work on something, I stop using the chat boxes even when it's flooding with messages. It’s ok, let people wait. They are so used to getting instant answers. True to the words, if there’s a delay in responding, they’ll find answers somehow.

3. Take breaks between meetings

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That’s how I feel between meetings. :)

If you are juggling between multiple projects and also your job is meeting heavy. Book your calendar for taking 15 minutes break before you switch context.

4. Stand your ground

If your workplace is forcing you to succumb to project deadlines, Stand your ground and say only what could be done. Be clear in mentioning what looks achievable to your manager. Don’t be shy in talking with them regarding multiple streams.

5. Declutter your workspace

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If you are someone like me, who resonated with this article thus far, then you might be like me. Although I am reasonably an organized person, sometimes I fail to notice clutter on my desk. It might look silly. This affects your mental state too. Try starting your day by having minimal things on your desk, you might witness the magic yourself.

5. Meditation

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Meditation is nothing but focusing. Focusing on breath or focusing on your thoughts or anything which stops wandering. Use this in between the work to focus on breathing and relax your body. Nothing is more calming than relaxing.

The very basic behind understanding and fixing any of our flaws is awareness. Awareness of our feelings, emotions, thoughts, and whatnot.

This is written to bring awareness of your own self. Stay focused stay productive.