With so many projects on the average person's plate, it is no wonder that multitasking comes second nature. The problem with that mindset is that studies show people lose productivity while multitasking: we make more mistakes, and we take longer to complete individual tasks. When our attention is being pulled in so many directions, doing less is the key to accomplishing more.
Don't Always Say Yes
Biting off more than you can chew is the fastest way to burn out and end up accomplishing less. If you keep your to-do list manageable, you will be better able to focus on the tasks at hand rather than worry about trying to get too much done at once. Before taking on a new project or agreeing to provide a carpool for the weekend soccer game, make sure you have plenty of time for your current commitments. Then, work your way down your list is by focusing on a single task and completing it before moving on to another. Make sure you are not sabotaging your success by checking emails, chatting with a coworker, or scrolling through Facebook while you are trying to complete a task.
Working in a busy office, it's virtually impossible to eliminate every distraction. The phone will always ring, and the boss will always drop in for a quick conference. When these inevitable interruptions happen, set aside what you are working on and refocus your attention to what is in front of you. The result will be less stress and a better work environment -- and a completed to-do list at the end of the day.
A 2012 TED Talk with Industrial Design Professor Paolo Cardini talks about the benefits of monotasking. He talks about "supertaskers," or the 2% of the population that are truly able to stay on top of multiple projects without suffering from stress, confusion, or a loss of productivity. That leaves 98% of the population that simply cannot function at a high level while our attention is being drawn from task to task. Moral of the story? Unless you're a rare case, you should try to focus on one single project or task at a time to make the most of your productivity.
Less Stress, Better Performance
While Cardini is demonstrating his specially-designed covers for the ubiquitous iPhone that transform it from the ultimate multitasker into an object of single function, we can see how the lesson applies to everyday life. Focusing on a single task at a time is the path to not only increased productivity, but also to less stress and more enjoyment. In other words, when we concentrate on what we are doing, we will do a better job and enjoy the process to boot.