The world has become so competitive that we constantly push ourselves to get more done in less time. From having multiple screens running in front of us to managing different tasks at once, we have slowly honed ourselves into this new way of life, in hopes of attaining success in a wink.
But here’s the take, when we say we are multitasking, we are actually not. Multitasking means accomplishing two or more tasks at once and while most of us would love to do that, our brain is not programmed that way. We can only ever focus on one thing at a time.
So, we are essentially task switching i.e., switching our focus from one task to another. Switching tasks gives the impression that you are accomplishing multiple things at once and are more hardworking and efficient. The reality, however, is the opposite.
If you think you are sending a pending email on one side while sitting in an ongoing meeting and responding to a text message at the same time then, sorry to break it to you, but you are not doing any of these things AT THE SAME TIME.
When your focus shifts to the email, you lose complete sight of the meeting; when you pay attention to the meeting, everything else falls into the backdrop and the text you are trying to send, has made you lose track of the meeting. So, you are only doing ONE thing at a time!
When trying to switch tasks and move quickly, we push our boundaries to the extreme, trying to accomplish the impossible. While we strive to achieve the heights of success, we often overlook the harm it is bringing to our physical and mental health and its detrimental effect on the quality of our work.
As a project manager or a team lead, the responsibility is even greater. You carry your whole team with you and switching tasks is a no-go area if you want to ensure your projects produce good results. You cannot succumb to the temptation of doing multiple things at once.
The detrimental effects of switching tasks are not limited to one area of your life, it affects your work as well as your personal life with the damage it does to your mental health. It’s time to break the rose-tinted glass of task switching and we are here to tell you how.
Let’s first understand the difference between switching tasks and multitasking.
What Is Task Switching?
Switching tasks mainly implies juggling two or more tasks side by side. It essentially means withdrawing attention from one task and focusing it on another. But, when we are trying to do too much at once, we only manage to give partial attention to tasks. Juggling different tasks means none of them gets your
Whenever you switch from one task to another, you have to rewire your brain to bring its focus to the task at hand. It has to remember all the vital pieces of information and connect the dots so that it understands everything related to the task. But in our frenzy, we often fail to allow the time needed for the task resulting in poorly done tasks.
In an effort to spend less time doing a task, you often end up spending double the time. Each time you switch, your brain takes some time to gather all the points; even then, something is quite possible to be left out. Switching between tasks is havoc through and through.
How Is Task Switching Different from Multitasking?
It is time to draw a clear line differentiating task switching from multitasking. Remember, multitasking means working on different tasks at the same time. There are limited areas where you can multitask. Otherwise, it is humanly impossible to work on different things simultaneously.
Multitasking only works when the actions are geared towards accomplishing the same end goal. Driving, for example, is multitasking; your eyes, hands, ears, and feet are working simultaneously, trying to keep you safe and sound on the track.
Switching tasks, however, is a whole other deal. It means a constant shift of focus and none of the tasks are linked together. You are changing tasks and goals, making it even harder for your brain to make sense of the tasks.
A good example of multitasking will be a student writing a paper, sending a text to a friend in the middle and checking his Instagram in the middle, etc. Each task requires the presence of his mind and each time he switches between these three, he is breaking his focus and refocusing it somewhere else, so they might not be able to accomplish anything at all.
The Downside of Switching Tasks:
Here are a few pointers that will help you understand how switching between tasks is detrimental to you and your work:
- Stress: The biggest downside of switching tasks is losing focus and barely getting anything done. The failure to produce quality work leaves you stressed and tensed, affecting your professional as well as personal life.
- Time-consuming: While you may think you are being efficient, switching between tasks makes you lose your precious time rather than helping you save it. Every time you focus and refocus attention, valuable minutes are getting wasted.
- Decreased productivity: By switching tasks frequently, you hardly get anything done and the things you actually manage to complete are also rather poor in quality. So, instead of making you more productive, it turns your efforts futile.
These are just some of the points we have curated to give you an idea of how detrimental it can get if you don’t stop avoiding switching tasks now. Next, we will give you some tips on how you can avoid switching between tasks and become more productive as a project manager.
Ways You Can Avoid Switching Between Tasks:
Switching between tasks has become a habit, and like we said in the beginning, the growing competitiveness of the world has only strengthened our belief that the more we do, the better the chances of success. In the practical world, however, it is not so, so you need to learn some new things and unlearn a few to get back on track.
1. Plan Your Day:
We might be stating the obvious here, but that is the first step that will get you out of that mindset of doing a bunch of things together. A haphazard schedule means you might do this now but another thing later, and you have no idea if you will be able to accomplish anything.
To make sure you make the most of your day, start by planning everything. Make a list of all the tasks you must complete on that day and allot time to it. Set a specific time aside for each task in your schedule, and although we know it will be a bumpy road, you will see the results in just a few days. By then, planning will become second nature for you.
2. Prioritize Tasks:
We know all tasks are important, but some tasks are more so than others. You must prioritize your tasks to ensure the most important ones are completed first. For example, if a task has a fast-approaching deadline then place that task on the top of your list and vice versa.
With the most important task completed first, you can breathe fresh air and relax your nerves for the rest of the day.
3. One Task at A Time:
The whole point of this article is to convince you to take one task at a time and prevent you from dividing your attention. One task means no switching, not even for a quick reply to a text message, a 2-minute call, or a social media update. You have to give it your focused attention to complete it in time.
We know that focusing all your attention on a single task is not possible all of a sudden, it takes time and patience. But believe us when we say this, as soon as you adopt this idea in your life, you will see some very beneficial results that will ultimately push you to stay on the same line forever.
4. Group Similar Tasks Together:
We have already pointed out how switching tasks takes away your time and focus, but if you group similar tasks together your brain will be able to quickly adapt to the next task and will take less time adjusting to it.
As a result, you will be able to accomplish the task in less time and be able to move on to the next one without any hiccup in the process.
5. Find Your Way Around Interruptions:
Interruptions are inevitable, no matter how meticulously you plan your day, no one can guarantee that nothing will go wrong and that the plan will be accomplished flawlessly. You might encounter things out of your control that might threaten your workflow.
In times like these, you must find your way around these disruptions to ensure your work is not affected. To deal with interruptions, you can readjust your plan for the day to adjust a new task, add more time to a task, etc., or get rid of less important tasks.
6. Short Breaks Are Welcomed:
If you think working without a break will get you that promotion you are eying, a hefty incentive of a certificate of achievement then you are wrong. Working without a break will only add to your burden, making it difficult to get anything done.
Short breaks freshen you up and bring back your focus. It allows your brain to relax, and you can get back in work mode in no time. Make sure that your break is an actual break, without emails, notifications, etc., have some me time and enjoy it thoroughly before you come back to your desk.
7. Get Rid of Distractions:
It is very easy to get distracted when you want to focus on a specific task. Suddenly, social media seems like a very interesting place you have to explore, your charger gives up on you, the neighbor’s children are making a lot of noise, you need a snack, or your seat is uncomfortable.
All these things are distractions you need to do away with if you want to bring productivity to how you manage your work. Before you set yourself down for work, make sure you have eliminated every possible distraction and are ready to jump into work with full focus.
There is no one way of doing things. One thing might work for you, and it might not do for someone else, or it might work but just not in the same way. You’ll have to experiment before finding the things that work best for you.
You will have to make tens and hundreds of plans before you get a hang of scheduling, the first time you try to focus on one task might not be a successful attempt, but you cannot lose sight of your goal, hole on to the rope, keep experimenting, you will surely find your way through soon.
As it turns out;
Avoiding task switching might, at first, seem like a strange thing to do especially with our penchant for multitasking but remember, as a project manager or a team leader, you have to set a good example for your team members. One step at a time, and we are sure you will be running towards your goal in no time!
Best of luck.