Too many tasks spoil the productivity

Many people pride themselves on their multi-tasking skills.

Whether it’s at home or in the workplace, the ability to tackle multiple problems at the same time is highly rated.

It has become synonymous with perceptions of success.

But there is growing evidence that our constant multi-tasking, whether it's checking all our devices at once, constantly refreshing email inboxes or closing a deal on a mobile phone while we are driving, can be less effective.

Research out of Finland says multi-tasking is a trap and chopping and changing from one task to another can slow down progress.

Aalto University associate professor Iiro Jääskeläinen suggests multi-tasking may also affect your ability to concentrate, leading to stress.

"Prolonged stress hinders thinking and memory,” he says.

The issue has real consequences for business owners with the 2013 Workplace Productivity Report finding that 55 per cent of people are frequently distracted at work.

Of those, only a third said they were able to shake off the distractions and get on with their job.

The report concludes that 25 per cent of people are completely unproductive for seven or more hours a week. A slightly fewer number were unproductive for five or six hours a week.

Some of the lack of productivity stemmed from trying to do too much at once.

The research found that just one in five employees, dubbed early adapters, had developed strategies to leave the distractions aside and get on with the job.

The report found that “key to this transition is self- awareness and ultimately developing the skills to self-regulate around distractions”.

It champions examples of people turning off email alerts, or turning off emails for chunks of time during the day to ensure they had productive hours.


Information overload

Part of the problem is the huge increase of information in front of us each day.

If you are managing a social media page for your company you might go to post something but an hour later you are still scrolling through the feed.

The Employerbility productivity research also found that people thought they were being productive, when in reality they were “unproductively busy”.

US-based career coach Lisa Quast has written extensively about the issue and believes that one of the best things a business owner can do is model good behavior.

That might mean at the start of a meeting they stop and turn off your laptop and phone and encourage your team to follow suit, or dedicate certain hours of the day for each type of task you need to accomplish.

Richie Pinard, who runs a home-based business making Richie’s Fresh Salsa, says he is constantly multi-tasking in the kitchen – but he keeps his focus purely on the cooking.

“We have a separation of roles in that my wife, Mary, is the one who receives the emails about orders so I am not constantly checking them,” he says.

While phone calls are allowed, Pinard has trained himself to make and return calls at certain points in the day, to ensure he’s not leaving pots on the stovetop bubbling away, while he works on the business.

Pinard says it can be hard to find time to fit in all the tasks, but by moving away from a multitasking mindset he can focus on cooking when that is the task at hand, or dedicate his full attention to suppliers and customers when returning calls.

Richie Pinard, owner of Richie's Fresh Salsa

How to increase your productivity by moving away from multi-tasking

TURN off email notifications so you are not distracted by constant dings.

PUT the phone on voicemail or on silent for periods of time.

HAVE two phones – one for work and another for personal calls. This can be a great way to separate your activities if you work from home.

HAVE a do not disturb sign for the days you need to focus on the job at hand.

NOISE cancelling headphones will cut the distractions and increase productivity if you need to concentrate – just make sure you’re not ignoring your team!

TAKE social media apps off your phone so you won’t be tempted to dip into them.

CHANGE the way your meetings are conducted and have phone or computer free meetings to ensure everyone is focused on the conversation.

ENCOURAGE mindfulness by using apps such as Smiling Mind [Smiling Mind.]

SET goals for your employees to meet so they don’t get distracted.

PRIORITISE the workload from high to medium to low so that everything doesn’t need to be done at once, but gets done.

DELEGATE tasks when you can.

LEARN to say NO.