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Avoid multi-tasking, single-mindedly

We might not be as good at multi-tasking as we thought we were

You may think you can multitask, but it's all an illusion.

Your brain is not wired to perform mental calisthenics.

Trying to do 27 things at once only "ruins productivity, causes mistakes, and impedes creative thought", argues a neuroscientist.

Professor Earl Miller of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in Fortune earlier this month that humans have very limited capacity for simultaneous thought.

He cited an example of checking an e-mail while writing a pitch for a client.

"When you finally return to the pitch, your brain has to expend valuable mental energy refocusing on the task, backtracking, and fixing errors. Not only does this waste time, it decreases your ability to be creative," said Prof Miller.

So, if multitaskers get less done, how should we power up our productivity in the new year?

PRIORITISE

Stop multitasking for a week and see if you don't get more done in a day.

Each night before you go to bed, or each morning before you begin work, create a To-Do list.

Put your most important tasks for the day at the top.

Focus on completing one task at a time, starting with the one at the top of the list.

As soon as you complete that item, cross it out, so that the next task on the list becomes your first task.

Continue until you have completed all your important tasks for the day.

FOCUS

This is related to multitasking, but it goes a bit deeper. When you flit from task to task, you:

  • Have a hard time filtering out irrelevant information
  • Cannot keep multiple pieces of information sorted in your mind
  • Cannot figure out which information is relevant to your current task or goal, which wastes time.

If you want to be highly productive on an assignment, be fully present.

The task at hand is your only focus at that point of time.

If a new thought about work distracts you, add that to your to-do list, and turn your attention back to what you were doing.

PLAN

The most productive people know the most important duties they have to complete each week. In other words, they also schedule a weekly Must-Do list.

The weekend is a good time to spend a few moments to plan your upcoming week.

Alternatively, spare 10 minutes on Friday evening before leaving the office to jot down the five big To-Dos for the following week.

You could also text reminders to yourself on your smartphone while commuting.

PACK IT IN

Continual learning of new knowledge is necessary in today's dynamic labour market.

When learning, do so at a faster pace. Speed up that Ted Talk video or audio book three times faster.

This may sound like you are compromising learning effectiveness, but that isn't the case.

Trainers slow down the speed at which they speak on e-books and videos, and you have the ability to listen and absorb the information at a faster pace than you think.

Use a service such as Audible for e-books and podcasts. Use Enounce software for YouTube training videos.

Listening or watching at a faster pace may seem unnatural at first, but you will get used to it - and pack in the learning.

DISCONNECT

However, being wired 24/7 is a bad idea: Staying on top of things calls for downtime too.

Disconnect to recharge. That means, no checking e-mail and, if possible, no answering your smartphone either.

Give yourself a block of time when you are completely untethered to all things digital.

Go outdoors, spend time with family and friends, and get enough sleep to recharge your batteries.

When you are well rested, you approach your work with a fresh perspective and you carry out tasks more quickly because your mind is sharper.

DECLUTTER

Take the year end to spruce up your office laptop.

Junk the junk - old files you have not opened in six months, old e-mail and past projects.

Or archive them. That would make searches for relevant documents load faster.

Tidy up your computer - some people place their files and folders willy-nilly on the desktop, then waste time looking over dozens of icons each time to get what they need.

You will accomplish more by doing fewer things at once, and by focusing and being organised.

Being focused means you do not lag in duties, avoid backtracking, and free up time for your personal pursuits - contributing to a more productive and happier you in the new year.

Credit: This article was contributed by Right Management, the global career experts within United States listed HR consulting firm, ManpowerGroup.

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