The Multi-Tasking Myth

It’s a Myth that Multitasking makes us more effective.

In today’s workplace we are all constantly connected. Smart phones, messaging, linked in facebook and email are very much part of our everyday routine as we are constantly switching between different methods as we get up to the minute information.

We tell ourselves that because we are across the latest up to the minute information we can respond quicker and be more effective. In fact the opposite is true – when we switch between tasks it can have an impact of as much as a 40 percent reduction of someone’s productivity. As you switch between tasks you lose time refocusing back on the original task and it also introduces scope for errors and rework.

Email is one of the worst destroyers of productivity as we often pounce on the email when it arrives but rarely action it in the spot, but simply skim read it to see if there is something with responding to or doing. In doing this, so we not only stop the focus on our current task but in many instances go back into email many times before we properly action / close of the email.

For example: how many times have you seen a new email arrive through the alert at the bottom of your screen, switch over to your email to have a look at what came in, think about it but decide to leave it to later and then switch back to what you were doing only to then have too re-familarise yourself with what you were working on before the email arrived. All of this distracts you for 5-10 minutes as you get back into the zone to continue with the original task.

Does your inbox hundreds of emails? Do you lose time looking for that email you know is there or worst still forget to respond to important messages? - you aren’t alone!! The best way to overcome this iss by taking control of your inbox so you are managing it, not your email managing you. The first thing to do is get control. This may require putting aside some dedicated time to go through and clear your current inbox. I have seen people with thousands of emails. It will take a little bit of time to sort out but if you don’t you will never get control.

The key change it to only touch an email once - open it, read it, action it. N o more multi-pouching as you open, read, close, open again and read it a second time......

Once you have control, you then need to dedicate a small amount of time each day to manage your emails and block out some time to each day to make sure you stay on top of your email. Simple tips like unsubscribing to mailing lists you don’t care about, creating rules to sort emails, deleting or filing emails once you have read and actioned them and spending dedicated time each day to clear what is outstanding. It is quite possible to keep on top of your emails with these simple tips. The target state is to have a Zero In box at the end of each day.

One of the key things to making this work is only looking at each email once, the way to do this is by following these steps.

  • Dedicate Time - Only look at emails when you have dedicated time – this might involve blocking 15 minute time intervals a few times a day. This will mean that you can action the email when you open it rather than have a quick look and closing it down for later and running off to the next thing.

  • Turn of Alerts – if you are dedicating time to manage your emails during the day then you can afford to turn off your emails – very rarely do you emails need an immediate response – they can normally wait an hour or two whilst you finish off what you are doing. If you turn off the alerts and respond when you are ready you can make sure that you give the email the appropriate thinking time it deserves.

  • Action when you open it – when you open the email decide what you are going to with it. Use four rules – Do, Delegate, Delete/file it and Diarise. If you can action it immediate – do it!!!!. Once you have actioned it – Delete it or file it, don’t leave it in your inbox, if one of your team is meant to do it – delegate it and if you can’t do it now create a diary entry and schedule for later.

These are just common sense simple steps but they can transform your working lift. I have seen people at all levels in an organisation be successful at managing a Zero In box and free up significant productivity.


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