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Multitasking is a hotter topic than ever in business circles. A recent school of thought, led largely by thinking around scrum theory, has it that multi-tasking is a bad thing – lowering the ability of our brain to deep dive on a single topic, but actually, there is conflicting evidence on the topic. Recent research from the University of Western Sydney indicates that the human brain has evolved over many millennia to work on processing several different simultaneous sources of information – in fact, this may have been the evolutionary secret which allowed our hunter-gatherer forebears to thrive. It turns out that the cognitive systems we evolved them are still intact in our brains and can be of just as much use to us in our busy modern environments. Indeed, multitasking is not even an option for many busy entrepreneurs and those of us who juggle family commitments with working life – we have no choice but to split our focus sometimes, and learning how to do this well is a skill which can only enhance our lives.
Combine Your Tasks Well
Understanding which items on your to-do list work well together is absolutely key to making multi-tasking work well. Catching up with your parents on the phone while loading a wash and also sorting through mail are examples of tasks which can be put together well. However if you’re doing something like writing a new marketing strategy or browsing Working Capital for new sources of funding, or if one of your children comes to you with a problem – those are times you have to know when to focus on just one thing. Find tasks which work well together – generally, anything cognitively complex should be ruled out, but smaller, more repetitive tasks make better bedfellows. Think recording the outline of a report on voice notes while filing email. Don’t overreach and try to keep it simple.
Block Your Tasks
A schedule tends to work best when you block similar tasks together. So, instead of being distracted by every incoming email notification, turn them off and allocate set times to check them. As you do, file quickly into four folders – Today, This Week, This Month and FYI. Using time-bound folders rather than project-based ones is a great productivity tool which can help you to ensure everything is covered off. While you’re processing emails, you could also listen to a business-focused podcast, make some phone calls or even listen to some music – research about accelerated learning shows that certain types of music can help you learn faster.
Know When To Switch Off
Knowing when to stop working on a million things at once and invite some stillness and peace into our lives is just as important as being able to combine tasks. No one can work flat out on several things for an indefinite period of time. Your brain needs a break from time to time, so build quiet into your day – using a mindfulness app or doing some simple breathing exercises can really help you to unwind and power your energy reserves back up.