To stay focused on your goals, multitask smarter by thinking “optimize” over “maximize.”
1. Prioritize your tasks and make effective use of downtime.
- Group tasks that are similar in subject matter. Even the best and brightest among us get derailed when we change topics or contexts.
- Group tasks that can be worked on at the same time. Some tasks simply are not compatible with each other. It may be obvious (you can’t make two phone calls at the same time) or not (if you’re waiting for calls, then complete a concurrent task that can be easily interrupted by those calls as they come in).
- Fill your downtime wisely by mixing mental task with a physical task. Visiting the dentist? Take something simple with you to work on in the waiting room, like clearing out your email, taking a few minutes to thank those who have been helpful to you, or catch up on industry trends). You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish with those blocks of time.
2. Be judicious with your interruptions.
- You will get interrupted during the course of your day, but don’t drop everything and shift your attention for every situation that crosses your path.
- Consider setting rules around how often you check email, at what times you’re on IM, etc.
- When you are engaged in face-to-face meetings, turn off your devices so that you can focus your attention on the person(s) you’re with. It’s the polite thing to do.
3. Set aside time for high-concentration projects.
- Carve out time each day or week to work on projects that require more intensive engagement. Need to work on a sensitive report or that important article for your Communications department that will have your name on it?
- Carve out time to get it done uninterrupted. Sometimes a task requires your complete attention.
- Think of these tasks as power tools. Operating one requires your undivided attention!
4. Educate your colleagues on your work routines.
- Make sure you set expectations with everyone you work closely with so that they know they can rely on you even if you don’t respond immediately to all communications.
- Most often, responses do not need to be instantaneous to be effective.
- You can still be an effective multitasker without dropping everything to respond.
5. Set your schedule ahead of time.
- Scheduling, even if it’s simply creating a to-do list for the day, is an opportunity to optimize your multitasking.
- Before you leave the office each day, set your schedule for the next day, grouping like tasks together.
- Decide on a set of tasks that you are going to complete and stick with them.
- Put any additional related tasks on a new list. You’ll sleep better, too.