1 tip about multitasking that can make you 40% more productive.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.

Strengths: Excellent multitasker.

This used to be a common line in resumes

I have written it, and I took real pride writing that.

And I can bet that you have also seen it on job descriptions (JDs)

Requirement: Have to be excellent at multitasking.

So, it does seem to be a necessary skill. An excellent one to have, right?

Of course, you might say.

So, you definitely need that 1 tip that I promised in the title. The 1 tip about multitasking that can make you super productive.

High-Octane Villain

A pretty simple tip, yet very important and effective.

Stop multitasking.

Yes. You read it right. Stop multitasking, and you will get more done.

Does it sound counterintuitive? Yes. But that’s what dozens of studies done in the last 5 years  tell us.

Multitasking isn’t a skill anymore. It’s more of an affliction.

We are chronic multitaskers. Send that email while you are on the phone, shave while maggi is on the stove (I do that all the time, and then eat burnt maggi), or watch the latest episode of suits while eating (we all do that).

So, why do we multitask, if it is as inefficient as the studies say it is?

We do it because we feel a sense of fulfilment. We feel like “ Wow! I am great. I managed to write an article, check all the emails, answer a few calls, and read the news. Wow! I must be superman.”

But the reality is that with multitasking, we might be able to check off more tasks on the list, but it is greatly affecting the quality.

And, like the illuminati (For the Dan Brown fans), multitasking has infiltrated every bit of our lives that we have accepted it as the norm than the exception.

Take a look at a familiar situation: your partner is talking to you about something important and the phone rings with a text message. How many of us can really resist picking up the phone and checking the message? Not me. Not many. What happens after that is “Ghar ghar ki kahani” (The story of every household).  🙂

Or, count the number of tabs you have open right now on your browser. 8, 10, or even 20? We don’t have the patience to wait for a webpage to open, so in the few seconds that we wait, we open another page.

Constant multitasking is waging a war on our attention spans. Chronic multitaskers have trouble focusing on any task for more than a few minutes, and there is not a deadlier productivity killer than a lowered attention span.

Not convinced? Studies show that we lose about 40% of our productive time to multitasking. They call this the cost of switching (http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx)

But all said, I am not actually qualified to write this, because I am myself a big offender. I am a big multitasker and I used to take pride in it. I make calls while driving, read articles while working, and even check emails while in the middle of a class.

But I have taken the first step. I am aware of the perils of multitasking and have started to fight it. So, I am not going to give you any solutions here yet. I will work on this for the next few months, and once successful, will report back to you on what worked and what didn’t.

Till then, you can look at a couple of articles that might help.

http://timemanagementninja.com/2013/09/8-ways-to-stop-multitasking-and-get-work-done/

http://blog.fuze.com/the-high-cost-of-multitasking-infographic/

Also, hopefully, the companies will start listing unitasking instead of multitasking in the list of skills required, and consequently we will change our resumes too.

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Why I totally trashed my productivity plan. And why you should too.

I had a pretty interesting productivity plan. Till about a year ago. This 4 step plan looked something like this.

Step 1: Get super frustrated with the mess. Both physical and mental

Step 2: Clean up the room, look at the long to-do list, and create an infallible super plan to get things done.

Step 3. Follow the infallible super plan for a few days till, almost inevitably, the infallible plan crashes like the Titanic. (Mostly within a week)

Step 4: Go back to step 1. Repeat for years and years.

And then it happened. One day, I trashed it forever.

waste basket

Picture courtesy: http://www.freeimages.com/profile/nkzs

Almost 6 months ago, I read a book called “The power of habit –  Why we do what we do in life and business” (Almost by accident. Greeshma (my partner) ordered it for herself.) The book got me started on the idea of habits, and I got hooked. I started reading up anything on habits that I could get my browser to. I read zen habits, BJ Fogg, Gretchen Rubin, and so on.

And then I realized that there was a better path to productivity.

Habits.

You see, habits are brain’s way of automating. How many times have you taken the turn towards office, when you were actually going somewhere else? Do you put in the right leg first into your trousers or the left leg? Always the same one? These are habits at work.

So, how were habits going to help me be more productive?

To answer this, let me first list out the productivity issues I tried to tackle with a productivity plan.

  1. I wasn’t getting things done.
  2. I was unhealthy – Joint pains, low energy etc
  3. My work space and home were in chaos
  4. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t find the time nor the energy.
  5. I was sleeping way too late.

With a productivity plan, what I used to do was to plan a day which will take care of all these issues. It looked like this.

Wake up at 6, exercise, then write and have breakfast. Work (finish all the tasks on the to-do list), come home, spend time with friends and family, have dinner, clean up, make a to-do list, and go to bed. (I am sure it looks similar for most of you). The problem, like I stated before, was that this was not sustainable.

With the habits plan, I had a different approach. I could build a few habits that will take care of these issues, and then my brain will automate those behaviors. For example, if I have a habit of creating a schedule for the next day (I will write later about why a schedule and not a to-do list), it would, to an extent, take care of my problems with getting things done. If I have a habit of waking up at 6 every day, I would have the time to write. If I have a habit of exercising for 30 minutes a day, it will almost take care of my health (With the bonus that I will fall asleep easier). If I have a habit of cleaning up my house every night, I would be living in a clean, peaceful place.

A habits approach requires more patience and persistence than a simple getting-things-done approach. As I have already written in the article “4 war strategies to build better habits,” you can’t build new habits all at one time. You will have to work on one at a time. So, a complete transformation of your day isn’t possible in a week, or even a month, or two. It will require persistence for a longer period. May be a year.

On the other hand, if you are willing to persist, a habit plan can be truly rewarding. If you can build 4-5 key sticky habits a year, those habits will stay with you for a life time. Imagine yourself as a person who always wakes up at 6, exercises, writes/reads, gets your things done consistently, and sleeps and wakes up on time. Motivating? What’s all the more motivating is that you will stay that way for a long long time. (Maybe even your entire life)

A habits approach is about deciding what kind of a person you want to be and building the right habits to be that person.

I want to be the kind of person who wakes up at six every day, exercises, writes, reads, spends enough time with the family and achieves most of his life goals. So, in the last 6 months, I have managed to build 2 major habits..

  1. I write a schedule every night for the next day – this has hugely improved my productivity. I have gotten more done in the last 6 months than I have in over 3 years.
  2. I wake up at 7 almost without an alarm: My target is to wake up at 6, but I have taken baby steps, and have started waking up at 7 consistently (it used to be 8:30). In the next 2-3 months, I hope to be able to wake up at 6 regularly. (There are those odd days, when I oversleep, but I don’t kill myself over them). This has given me time to write regularly.

Over the next year, I will add the other three habits (Exercise, clean, wake up at 6) to my life, and then, I would consider myself truly productive.

And yes, I am not saying that habits and habits alone make me productive. They form the foundation on which I apply other principles. I believe that should work for you too.

So, have I convinced you about habits, and how they can be great for you? If not let me invite someone else. Someone who is an undeniable expert. The Greek guru – Aristotle. In his words.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”