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5 Ways to Stop Multitasking and Learn to Love Focus

Juggling multiple tasks simultaneously seems like a fact of life in today's workplace, but you'll be more productive and efficient if you build your ability to focus on one job at a time. Here are some tips for breaking the multitasking mindset.

By Rebecca Hawk

Working at an association often demands a proactive work ethic and a can-do attitude. Between fielding member inquiries, working with the board, and completing your own day-to-day work, you're probably working simultaneously on multiple tasks most of your day. If you're feeling out of control of your work, the temptation to tackle multiple projects at one time is real. Research, though, shows that multitasking is ineffective.

The good news is that there are some clear steps you can take to run your work rather than letting it run you. Read on for tips on how to manage the work on your plate more efficiently and reap the benefits of true focus.

Be clear about your priorities. This is the essential first step. Establish priorities for your work, then engage in a conversation with your supervisor to ensure alignment. Once your priority list is in place, let your colleagues know that you'll be trying to refocus your work around those projects. A set hierarchy of tasks allows you freedom from the feeling that every to-do is urgent.

Task-switching allows you to cross items off your to-do list in smaller increments, creating a feeling of accomplishment and encouraging further productivity.

Set boundaries. Part of the appeal of multitasking is that it provides the illusion that you're available for and adaptable to small interruptions throughout the day. In short, it lets you say yes, probably more than you should. Setting boundaries on your time and availability frees you up to dedicate real focused time to the things that come up at the last minute.

To start setting boundaries, try blocking off time on your calendar to do email-free work, or give yourself a set time of day in which to schedule meetings or check-ins with colleagues.

Embrace task-switching. While research shows that multitasking isn't truly effective in most work environments, task-switching is effective. Task-switching involves setting designated times for given activities, focusing on one at a time, then switching over to another task after the allotted time is up. The Pomodoro method is an example of a task-switching technique.

Multitasking may feel productive because you're constantly busy. But multitasking creates stress, sometimes chronically. Task-switching, on the other hand, allows you to cross items off your to-do list in smaller increments, creating a feeling of accomplishment and encouraging further productivity.

Give "time-wasting" tasks their own space. Many people complain that they spend hours a day on email, or they are surprised at how quickly they get sucked into social media after stopping for a short break. Instead of letting these small tasks rule you—and take time away from your priorities—give them a set time. Try checking email two or three times a day, for example, instead of reading every message as it comes in.

Have a place to write down your thoughts or to-dos. Even the most focused professional can be rattled by an invasive thought or reminder about an upcoming project. Instead of getting sidetracked, create a designated document or notepad where you can write down stray thoughts that come up so that you can keep track of them and determine which you really need to address later.

Give yourself more time to complete tasks. Underestimating the time needed to complete work is not unusual, and it can lead to unproductive multitasking. By building extra time into your work schedules, you allow room for all the steps a task may require to be done concurrently rather than piecemeal. You'll probably want to spend time writing up your notes after a conference call, for example, so schedule an additional 15 minutes after the call to do so.

As you move into a more focused work plan, make sure to communicate with your supervisor and staff about what you're doing. Make it clear that you are still available and ready to help with crises, and let them know the best way to reach you in such situations. By creating boundaries and designated timeframes for your work, you'll find that you become more engaged and less stressed, and chances are high that your colleagues will appreciate and benefit from this new approach, too.

Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]

Career Development