Emily Wilska is the owner of The Organized Life (www.organized
life.org), a San Francisco–based professional organizing company
serving business and residential clients.
Should we eliminate
IN THE REAL WORLD, there will always be times when two (or more)
things demand your attention at once. Here’s how to do what you need to
do efficiently and effectively.
Set a time limit. When you need to shift gears from one task to
another—or to do two tasks at once—give yourself a deadline for
returning to the original task. For example, if you receive an important phone call while you’re
in the middle of writing a proposal for a client, let the caller know you’re able to talk for only
10 minutes; at the end of 10 minutes, politely but firmly end the call, making plans to follow
up later if need be.
Keep tabs on what you were doing. Before shifting your attention away from the task you
were working on, take a moment to note where you were, what your next step was going to be
and where to pick up when you come back to the task. If you’re pulled away from dinner prep
by a child clamoring for your attention, for example, take a second to remind yourself that you
were just about to move on to step three of your recipe; when you return to cooking, you’ll
know what’s next.
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Use stop-loss measures. At the very least, make sure multi-tasking doesn’t undo any progress you’ve already made. Stop-loss measures—turning down the stove before answering the
phone, say, or saving the document you’re writing before chatting with the colleague who comes
into your office—can help ensure that you don’t wind up further back than where you were.
Learn how to manage your time effectively. In Time Management from the Inside Out
(Henry Holt, 2004), author Julie Morgenstern proves that whatever your personality or work
style, there’s a time-management system for you. K.J. McCorry’s Organize Your Work Day in No
Time (Pearson Education, 2005) covers everything from setting daily goals to using technology
wisely and managing your information intake. David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of
Stress-Free Productivity (Penguin, 2001) is one of the most popular productivity books on the
market for good reason: It sets out a simple, effective, easy-to-follow system for making the
most of your time. C
from experts in the field:
Michelle M. Weil, Ph.D, is a clinical psychologist, keynote
speaker and consultant ( www.human-ware.com) and co-author of
TechnoStress: Coping with Technology@Work@Home@Play.
THE MORE TASKS we learn, the less efficient we become at performing any one task. Moreover, the longer we go before returning to
an interrupted task, the harder it is to remember just where we left off.
Laboratory research shows that multi-tasking increases stress,
diminishes perceived control and may cause physical discomfort
such as stomachaches, headaches and more. My own research on more than 35,000 people
worldwide demonstrates that multi-tasking makes it ever harder to concentrate for
You might notice that as you are working on one task thoughts about another creep into
your consciousness. Another sign of what I call “multi-tasking madness” is the feeling that your
memory is not quite as good as it used to be. You start working on something and then find
yourself not being able to remember what you wanted to do or say.
Still another symptom is an inability to sustain a peaceful night’s sleep or to enjoy what
used to be calming, recreational times. Too many thoughts are buzzing in your head. In the
end, multi-tasking madness diminishes your productivity and makes you work harder just to
feel like you are barely keeping up with all your work.
How to stop the madness? First, try getting better at estimating the time it takes you to
complete a task. Ask yourself how long it will take to download, read and answer your e-mail.
Then check the actual time it takes. You’ll generally find that you underestimated the time
required. This discrepancy leads you to pile more expectations on yourself. You multi-task
more and more, and soon you have way too much to juggle.
Second, develop an “external memory” to take some of the load off your brain. (An external memory can be as simple as a pad of paper where you list your tasks.)
Third, give yourself a chance to persevere on a task until completion. This is the most productive way to work. Eliminate such distractions as checking your e-mail frequently. Turn off
the ringer on your phone and fax. Of course, you also have to learn to say no to tasks you don’t
have time to complete. Remember, technology can multi-task 24/7. You cannot. C