Monday, 14 October 2013

Bath Business Web's Guide to Everyday Distractions and Multitasking - Focussing on the Task at Hand

Some people will tell you that it is only women who can multitask. And it's usually women who tell you that. But is that truly the case? 

Well actually, none of us can. Multitasking suggest that one person can do two or more things at the same time. This requires the brain thinking of two things at the same time. The human brain however, is not able to think of two things at the same time, let alone do two things at the same time. So no, you cannot multitask whoever you may be.

The actual aim is not so much to multitask, rather to organise a multitude of tasks effectively and efficiently. However, as we all know this is easier said than done. As during the course of a day we can be bombarded with phone calls, emails, people knocking on our office door, unscheduled meetings and so on and so forth. Any number of distractions  can steer us away from what we want or need to do in the course of our daily work.
There is a term known as ‘Infomania’. Which is basically an information overload or continuous distractions, such as the phone ringing, answering emails immediately as the come in, colleagues coming to our office for advice etc. Research suggests that these distractions can seriously reduce our mental sharpness, reduce intelligence and decrease our IQ levels by 10 points.

The research carried out by Psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson also found that multitasking and distractions can slow us down and cause brain overload, stress and inefficiency. Dr Wilson said ‘infomania can reduce mental sharpness and those constantly breaking away from tasks to react to distractions suffer effects similar to losing a nights sleep.’
Renowned American neuroscientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor Miller, has found that we do not truly multitask. Rather, that the human brain switches rapidly between tasks. This places a much greater stress on our brains than if we conducted those tasks one after another. Professor Miller's research also found that if we simultaneously focus on two similar tasks, that use the same part of the brain (talking on the phone while writing an email for example) we can overload our brains processing capacity. Which in turn leads to inefficiency of those tasks as we carry them out.
Bath Business Web, Multitasking, focus, refocus, task, tasks, routineBath Business Web, Multitasking, focus, refocus, task, tasks, routineAll of these distractions can lead to poor performance and greater levels of unnecessary stress.

We also feel stress at the fact that tasks are taking longer than expected, as we persist with inefficient multitasking in the hope that we can catch up.
Such interruptions can cause frustration and pressure and potentially lead to less resistance to distractions. 
Bath Business Web, Multitasking, focus, refocus, task, tasks, routineThese people are prone to poor levels of work related performance and become more susceptible to interference.
The more we multitask the more we are prone to distractions and we go full circle.
Bath Business Web, Multitasking, focus, refocus, task, tasks, routine 
The key is to find focus in our work and everyday business.
The aim is to create a personalised routine to mange and deflect distractions appropriately. 
It is good to remember that focusing on one task at a time can actually improve intelligence, reduce stress levels, increase mental sharpness and help us become more productive.
As you become more conscious of this you can plan your day more productively taking into account the tasks you need to complete. You can then manage any distractions and find the focus you desire in your work.
Things you can do to help yourself:

  • List and prioritise your most important tasks in order of their completion time. Remember you can always review that list at any given moment and change the order of priority as you go on with your day.
  • Find ways to avoid distractions or interruptions when working on each individual task.
  • When focusing on a particular task make a pledge with yourself that for that time you've set aside, you will devote it only to that task and no other.
  • Create time during your day to deal with any unexpected issues or tasks which may arise.
  • Manage you day so you create time slots during your day to read the emails which need your attention, rather than responding to them constantly or immediately.
  • Have someone take your phone calls or have moments in your day when the answerphone or voicemail does it for you. After all that’s what it is there for.
  • It can be useful to create moments in your day to escape to a quiet place where you can be guaranteed to not be disturbed.
  • Agree with your colleagues that when your door is open they can have a few minutes of your time and anything longer can then be arranged for later. When your door is closed then you must not be disturbed apart from anything you deem as urgent. Be clear with your colleagues what that may be and let them then take responsibility to make that call as and when it is necessary.
  • If you start to feel you are slipping into multitasking or reacting to those distractions, then stop, take a break and refocus your mind on the task at hand.
Bath Business Web, Multitasking, focus, refocus, task, tasks, routine
Take a break to refocus
Divide you day into segments:

  • Spend five minutes at the start of or day to organise the day ahead.
  • Once a day decide on the tasks which you will want to aim to complete or which are the two or three most important for that day or that week. Don’t overdo it. Be realistic as to what you can achieve.
  • Take into account how you will manage any unknowns or distractions before your day starts.
  • In the morning create time to focus on your tasks. Everyone has their own approach to organising their time. So think about the best time in the day for you to schedule those tasks. You know how you work. Whether you are better working earlier in the day or later in the afternoon. Ensure you block out at least two time slots where you will be protected from answering the phone or checking emails.
  • Around midday, allocate yourself some time to clear up any clutter to help you rejuvenate your mind and enable you to focus on the important matters for the rest of the day. Time maybe to check those emails or telephone calls. Devoting a moment or two in your day to do this will help avoid distractions and mean you are managing your day rather than reacting to it.
  • At the end of your day take a moment to pause, take a breath and consider what is working and what is not. Give yourself a moment to reflect on your day. A few minutes just to think about how it has been going. Compare what you wanted to happen with what actually did happen. Consider the meetings that took place, the work you did, the tasks, the jobs, any conversations on the phone or by email etc.
Bath Business Web, Multitasking, focus, refocus, task, tasks, routine
Consider how things are going
Remember to ask yourself: “How did my day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I take on? What did I learn about how I managed my day? What shall I do the same or differently tomorrow?”

The daily cycle of preplanning, clearing the clutter, avoiding unnecessary distractions and learning from your daily experiences, will lead to a more focused and productive future.

Winston Churchill was said to wake very early. He then worked from the time he got out of bed until late morning. He then went for a brisk walk and returned for a weak whiskey and soda. By early evening he was ready for a short nap. He claimed that this allowed him to fit one and a half’s days’ worth of work into every 24 hours.
Charles Darwin was also reported to be another very early riser. Preferring to work early spending all morning in his stud and end his day by noon.
For many people there seems to be a strong link between their ability to create and manage a routine and success. Other people may wish for a more flexible approach. However, flexibility works better with a framework. As without it you only get anarchy and chaos. Imagine the human body without a skeleton. It would not stand up for a start and be floppy and unable to respond. A framework or structure can increase your ability to be flexible and be able to respond or react accordingly. The routines you create can be rigid or flexible, and making even the smallest changes to your days can help to increase productivity.


Bath Business Web, Multitasking, focus, refocus, task, tasks, routine
Create an individual routine
A daily routine can help you increase your personal productivity, work satisfaction and professional success.

Everyone is different with how they will want to organise their day or their week. Consider when you are the most productive or creative. Is it in the morning, afternoon or evening? When might you best work alone and when do you prefer to work alongside others?  Consider when you are more likely to have less or more distractions when managing your time.
Having that appreciation of when it is best to do certain tasks will allow you to be better at arranging the things you need to do day by day. However you decide to manage your routine ultimately is your choice. In doing so you then choose that your days working on your business will become more productive, more satisfying and rewarding and can lead you to greater and greater success.

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