Multi-Tasking: Slow Down to Speed Up
By Dr. Ron Knaus
employees are under more stress than ever before. A recent Harris
Interactive poll found that one-third of workers ages 25 to 39 feel
burned out by their jobs. Additionally, doctors’ offices are seeing
more stress-related illnesses than ever before, including anxiety,
depression, insomnia, adult ADHD, backache, and migraines. In fact,
primary care physicians report that between 70% and 90% of their
patients are seen because of underlying emotional stress.
is causing all of this turmoil? Over the past 10 years businesses
have become lean, mean machines by reducing personnel and increasing
the workload on those “lucky” enough to remain on the job. An
increased workload forces the worker into multi-tasking. While
multi-tasking may be effective for a short period of time, over the
long term, multi-tasking causes excessive stress.
business world, multi-tasking is a must-have skill for any employee,
yet results are showing that most workers feel they are being asked
to do too many tasks. Why the disconnect between the workday
realities and the workers’ perception? Because people have never
learned exactly how to multi-task. That’s right,
multi-tasking is a learned skill. By learning how to multi-task
efficiently, you can dramatically reduce your workday stress,
increase your productivity, and enjoy your work once again.
Keys to Multi-Tasking Success: Contrary to popular belief,
multi-tasking is not about “piling on the work” to the point of
exhaustion. It’s about training the brain to channel energy in an
efficient and effective manner so you can accomplish more in less
time. And believe it or not, one of the hallmarks of learning to
multi-task is to actually slow down to accomplish more.
Following are some techniques that will help you mentally slow down
so you can finally learn how to multi-task and master this essential
Practice how to multi-task: Whether you’re learning how to
play the piano, use a computer program, or multi-task, practice is
essential to mastering the skill. Why? Because practice makes
something seem routine, and when something is routine, it’s no
longer stressful. Look at all the things you do in a day. Pick a few
routine tasks to start with. As you master doing multiple routine
things, then move on to slightly more difficult tasks. Gradually
work up to the number of tasks you normally do.
this process, remember that learning takes time. Very often people
jump into a new role or responsibility without gradually gearing up
their workload. Then they wonder why they feel stressed and can’t
multi-task effectively. So if you want to do all the things you do
each day in a more efficient manner with less stress, take a step
back and teach your body and mind how to work up to the production
level you desire. Such a gradual process will make multi-tasking
easier than ever before.
Know when a task requires undivided attention: Switching
brain channels (focus) repeatedly actually reduces your memory
recall. Think of your brain like a computer. If you are working
within multiple programs and have numerous windows open on your
screen so you can quickly jump from program to program, you may find
that your computer has a higher tendency of locking up. That is,
when you have fifteen windows open at once on your computer, and you
attempt to pull up your word processing document, it’s not uncommon
for your computer to run slow or to totally freeze up, often causing
you to lose all the data since your last “save.”
thing happens in your brain. When you’re performing multiple tasks
that require your undivided attention, your brain gets overloaded,
as it can only process information from one channel at a time.
Therefore, do not multi-task if the assignment requires your full
attention. Once that urgent or detailed task is complete, then you
can go back to doing the other tasks you normally do. This step will
save you lots of rework, as you’re more prone to make mistakes when
your brain is overloaded.
Use a tool to help you multi-task: To refrain from taxing
your brain, write down items you can refer to quickly. For example,
if you have a list of items you need to refer to often (such as
pricing or shipping information or keyboard shortcuts) put the list
next to your phone or computer for quick recall. Not only will
others think you are brilliant because of your amazing ability to
rattle off information, but you won’t have to waste brain energy on
such mundane information. You can then use your brainpower for true
Allow your mind to re-boot: Shift multi-tasking to single
tasking throughout the day to allow your mind to re-boot. The human
brain uses more energy than any other part of the body. As such, it
needs constant replenishment. Rest is one of the key components to
increasing personal energy and productivity. So every two to three
hours, stop multi-tasking and allow yourself to do just one thing
for fifteen to twenty minutes. At the end of this rest period,
you’ll feel refreshed, alert, and ready to tackle more tasks—and
you’ll do so with fewer mistakes than if you plowed through your
tasks without this re-boot period.
Take a brain break: Most employers offer their full-time
staff a lunch break and two fifteen minute breaks throughout the
day. Do you take yours? Most people do not, and as such, they’re not
giving their mind a true break from the stresses of the day. Use
this break time to walk around the building, sit outside, or just
close your eyes and meditate. Do whatever you like during these
fifteen minutes to clear your head and give your brain a rest. If
you really can’t afford a fifteen-minute break in your day, then
turn off your mind as you walk to the water cooler or restroom. Give
your mind some kind of total break from the workday tasks. To
function at peak levels on a consistent basis, regular breaks are
More with Less Stress: Multi-tasking is a part of our business
world. If you truly want to succeed, then you need to learn how to
multi-task so it doesn’t overwhelm you and cause unnecessary stress.
By simply slowing down and working up to the performance level you
desire, you can multi-task effectively and increase productivity.
Simply put, learning how to maintain your highest level of mental
functioning is your key to multi-tasking success.
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