On the other hand, people who multi-task are more likely to make mistakes, get distracted, struggle with creative work, produce less and/or lower quality output and achieve fewer goals. They are also more likely to experience higher levels of stress. There are also studies that suggest that habitual multitasking may be impacting the physical structure of the brain in a negative way.
The most obvious impact of not being able to focus and getting frequently distracted is the impact on your productivity. A study conducted at UC Irvine indicated that it takes people, on average 23 minutes to get back on track after being distracted. And while lower productivity has obvious business costs, it has also been linked to increased levels of stress and potential for burnout.
While it is clear that it is better to focus on one task and complete it before moving on, it is not an easy strategy to implement. In today’s work environment, with multiple responsibilities and an abundance of sources of distractions, it is difficult to stay focussed.
Here are some of the strategies that I’ve used successfully in my own work and in helping my clients be more productive.
Block Time“The key is not to prioritise your schedule, but schedule your priorities”– Stephen Covey
I strongly believe : what does not get scheduled, does not get done. For me, putting something on my calendar is the best way to ensure that I get around to doing it. Now this does not mean that you put every task on your todo list on your Calendar — that will just make your Calendar as unmanageable (and untrustworthy) as your todo list.
I treat my Calendar as sacred — anything I put on my Calendar is a commitment that I have made, usually to others, about my time. And while I do cancel and move appointments around, it is far less discretionary than picking a task from my todo list — as should be. So when I put a task on the Calendar, I treat it as seriously as I treat my other appointments.
However, as mentioned above, I don’t put all my tasks on my Calendar. I reserve it for only –
- my most important priorities for the day
- daily/weekly/monthly routines and
- time blocked for habit building.
Since my most important priorities can change from day to day, I have a placeholder to block time on my calendar (I use a recurring daily appointment to set it up for the entire year) and then the previous night (as part of my close of day routine) I replace it with a specific task.
I like to tackle my most important tasks first thing in the morning. Even when this is not possible, blocking out a specific time on my calendar helps me plan the rest of your day “around” these important priorities — rather than let my attention and focus be diverted by whatever shows up in my inbox or walks in through the door.
Work On Your Environment
The major culprit when it comes to people losing focus is getting distracted by whatever shows up in the moment. Sometimes this is someone walking over to your desk and attempting to start a conversation ( or walking through the door if you’re one of those snobs with an office to yourself). Or it could be getting distracted by an email showing up in your inbox or a call or a text message or a social media update.
For the first, try and isolate yourself — find an available meeting room or huddle cabin. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have an office, close that door. Open door policy is fine, but you must protect your time and focus when working on what is most important
Where isolating yourself in a separate space is not possible, you can discourage people from disturbing you by some form of signalling — put up a sign (“Do Not Disturb. Genius at Work” may be tacky, but it works). Sometimes just wearing your headphones is enough (unless you are constantly wearing them). Whatever you do, let others know that this is your way of focusing and that you would appreciate not being disturbed except in an emergency