12 Tips to boost your multitasking skills

Women multitasking as telephone operators

When managing a project, you have to deal with many tasks at the same time. A common solution is to use your multitasking skills and complete everything simultaneously. However, you will probably struggle as our brain isn’t built to handle more than one thing at once.

It gets tired, overwhelmed, and we find ourselves making mistakes. But there are ways to prevent it, and they start with following the 12 tips below so that you can boost those multitasking skills.

1. Accept your limits

To better manage task organization, be aware of your limits, especially those you can’t control. Your day has 24 hours. Your budget isn’t endless. Your resources are what they are. Above all, you have your own personality to respect. In other words, before deciding how to multitask, you need to draw a realistic picture of the scenario.

Of course, you can always expand the above with the use of technology. Just keep in mind the number of projects or assignments you are truly capable of managing and completing within your working hours. Project after project, your understanding of it will develop, so see it as a work in progress.

To improve your multitasking skills first understand how to organize urgent from important tasks

2. Distinguish urgent from important

A flawless to-do list is one of the keys to good multitasking. And the secret behind it is a thorough understanding of the differences between urgent (tight deadlines) and important (long-term sustainability) matters.

For instance, try applying the Eisenhower’s Principle. It says you should prioritize your tasks in the following sequence:

  1. Important and urgent;
  2. Important but not urgent;
  3. Not important but urgent;
  4. Not important and not urgent.

The importance of the assignment sets the tone of your to-do-list, not the urgency. However, it doesn’t mean you must do your tasks always in this order. Some people use level 3 and 4 to create “breaks” between more relevant issues. 

3. Learn to concentrate

Concentration is fundamental to multitasking. Productive people focus entirely on what they are doing in each given moment, then switch tasks. If it sounds difficult to you, here are some suggestions on how to accomplish it:

  • Work on your willpower: Procrastination can make you waste time between assignments, especially if you don’t have a deadline coming soon. Make sure you know the importance of what you are doing, even if you need to set reminders on your phone.
  • Try some meditation: Meditation is known for its ability to improve focus. There are several apps with great suggestions that can help you with it so that you won’t be bored – staying in silence in a dark room while paying attention to your breath is just one of its techniques.
  • Take notes (or doodle): Specialists also suggest that engaging in handwriting activity during work can help you to stay on the right track. Some people take notes, others doodle. Pick your favorite.

4. Avoid distractions

If you think you can’t multitask at all, then you should know that you already are. Check your work environment. It’s likely to have some noise, such as background music or phones ringing, or you might be getting app notifications frequently. You still can do your work and deal with all the above happening around you, and this is multitasking.

The problem is that too much external stimulation can become an issue, even if it comes from your duties. Nevertheless, not all distractions are bad. For instance, music helps some people to work better; others are energized by a chatty room.

To find a happy medium, do a test:

  • List all interferences around you
  • Eliminate them one by one: work in another area, or turn off your apps notifications, for instance.
  • Observe the impact of their absence on your work

If your performance improved, it’s time to remove the factor in question from your working life. But if your mind is wandering, even more, put the “distraction” back to your routine.

5. Work in blocks of time

You might have heard that multitasking skills are a myth, that no one can do more than one task at the same time. Even though this isn’t entirely true (depending on what you call a task), the point here is being able to switch assignments. And you can achieve it by grouping your tasks and getting them done through separate blocks of time.

For instance, adopt the Pomodoro Technique. It suggests that you work in 25-minute blocks, then take a short break after each block, followed by a longer break after every 4 blocks. However, this might not work for you if it forces you to stop at a critical stage.

The idea works because it’s easier to concentrate for 30 minutes than 1 hour. You just need to figure out the best time length for your project.

6. Work on related tasks together

Sometimes, you don’t have to switch assignments. You can work on more than one simultaneously if they are related.

For example:

  • All research can be dealt with at once
  • Hold a meeting to discuss several topics
  • Prepare a single presentation to apply for a loan that will fund more than one project

It won’t always be so simple. You will need to look for other ways to group your tasks, such as carrying out all duties delegated to the same employee, or managing issues based on location, type of product, and so on.

In any case, this approach has the extra advantage of presenting you the big picture so that you can transfer knowledge from one project to another.

7. Learn to supervise

Delegating is at the core of task organization. It allows you to assign to yourself the tasks matching your skill set and to supervise what is left, optimizing your time and increasing performance. But it also has a negative side. Your team will be reaching out to you, interrupting what you are doing to ask questions or to seek approval.

If the demand is interfering with your productivity, go back to your to-do list and set time aside for it. Let your collaborators know when you will be available, and which situations are considered as emergencies.

Understanding how to delegate and plan ahead is a crucial multitasking skill

8. Plan ahead

Once you become more confident in your ability to multitask, start planning your day ahead – either first thing on Monday morning, or last thing on Friday afternoon. You will then realize the following about most of your tasks:

  • They repeat at regular intervals
  • Some require more concentration than others
  • Many of them relate to each other

This understanding will help you to switch assignments, offering the information you need to become better organized. Once you reach this stage, consider creating to-do lists one, two, three weeks beforehand – only remember to allocate time to attend last-minute requests. Soon, you will have monthly and annual calendars ready to make your days much more manageable.

9. Take breaks

As important as the time you spend being productive, are the minutes you save to rest. Taking breaks is a proven way to restart your mind so you can get back to work refreshed. Your body will also thank you for the opportunity to move around, preventing muscular tension and its damaging consequences.

The length and frequency of your downtime will be defined by your personal choices, your line of work, and the task at hand. The usual recommendation is stopping for 15 minutes every hour, and never skipping lunch. But it’s also essential to pre-schedule your time off, so it’s set at regular intervals – especially if you are dealing with creative tasks.

10. Keep your brain sharp

Our brain is still a big mystery, but researchers agree we should try to find ways to keep our mind sharp. Among the techniques under investigation, game playing is one of the most popular because of its several concurring tasks, such as clicking on buttons, listening to instructions, and reacting to automated responses.

If you want to stay offline, other suggestions are sports activities, dancing, or table games. Anything that involves doing more than one thing at the same time can help you to enhance your multitasking skills.

11. Keep your coffee addiction in check

Many workplaces have become temples of coffee addiction. You might have a cup full of it and a kitchen where you can get a refill nearby right now. However, while caffeine isn’t the villain many people used to think, drinking it too often can have a negative impact on multitasking skills.

An excessive amount of caffeine can raise your blood pressure, cause insomnia, and increase irritability. Its withdrawal effects can also lead to several issues, from headaches to anxiety. All this together can destroy your concentration and ability to switch tasks. So, yes, enjoy your coffee, but don’t let it interfere with your work.

Although coffee may help fuel your multitasking skills too much is not ideal as there are negative effects

12. Use online tools to keep you on track

To make the tips above easier for you, consider adopting an online tool. If all you need is a to-do list, there are many apps you can use for free. However, as a project manager, you probably need a more powerful project management tool, something that allows you to have all your projects, communications and their respective tasks in one place.

Choose the best product based on the challenges you have identified. No project management tool is perfect, yet you want features able to tackle your most important concerns, such as communication, task management, and workflow. 

Start improving your multitasking skills now

Efficient multitasking can be easily achieved if you understand its true meaning. You will be able to deal with more than one project as long as you aren’t trying to complete tasks at the same time. You should also count on online tools to enhance your capabilities and automate repetitive activities.

Finally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Like any other skill, multitasking is something you develop over time. Build it up step by step and learn from your mistakes. You will notice the positive results sooner than you expect.

 

By Lucy Damasceno

August 14, 2018


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