As an entrepreneur, when someone asks you whether you prefer multitasking or single tasking, you probably want to laugh back and say, “Is there an option?!” We lead multi-dimensional lives, often out of choice, and dealing with different types of tasks, often on the same timelines comes with the territory. Ever juggled finding and finalizing an office space with the closing of your first major business deal? If yes, you know that multitasking today not only defines how we live and work, but often determines how successful we are at it.
Let’s then take a step back and understand the nature of the beast. Experts argue that, in fact, the term multitasking is a myth because what we do is more like ‘shift-tasking’. Our brains can process one cognitively similar task at a time. We may be shifting very rapidly between two tasks, but we are effectively only doing one at a point in time. Reading an email and talking on the phone simultaneously is probably something we all do; but if you really think about it, you’ll realize that our minds switch between focusing on the two in batches that are few seconds long.
But is this effective? At the end, have we gotten all we could from the phone call as well as the email? Or do you find that often you need to re-read the email anyway, or message the person back to confirm a few details again? And therein lies the rub. Experts, after years of research, have concluded that multi-tasking:
- Reduces our cognitive abilities, hindering attention span and ability to understand and take decisions
- Reduces productivity by as much as 40% because of the accumulated time lost in switching between tasks frequently
- Can lead to stress and attention deficit disorders
We all need a time management strategy of our own to help us juggle many balls while avoiding the stress and efficiency losses of multitasking. While devising one may take some time and experiments based on the nature of your work and your own natural rhythms of concentration, there are a few golden rules that can be very effective foundation stones.
1. Budget your time like you would your money: Acknowledge that you have a finite amount of it and be realistic about how much you can do with it. That is not to say that you can’t set yourself aggressive targets – after all, what is an entrepreneur without some hunger and drive – but be aware of the compromises that may come with it. Such an approach forces you to make some ruthless decisions about delegating and prioritizing work, which, in effect, declutters your mind for better concentration.
2. Plan to focus: The idea is to consciously move away from a work mode where you allow yourself to follow multiple threads at one time. The value of focusing on one task at a time, by splitting your day into short segments of equal duration, has been trending these days thanks to the many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have spoken about it. This approach is based on the Pomodoro technique that advises splitting your day into 25 minute segments, followed by short periods of rest. The length of the segments can vary based on your work and working style; Bill Gates and Elon Musk both split their days into 5-minute segments, while medical research points to 90 minutes being the optimal concentration cycle.
3. Factor in free time: Focusing too much on efficiency and getting the most out of your day can become addictive; rest and recreation start to feel unnecessary and we feel compelled to constantly be ‘doing’ something. It’s important to remember though that creativity, problem-solving and innovation are all traits that need us to zoom out from the details of our daily work. Factor in time-outs that take you away from work, reduce your screen time, including time spent alone, and try to spend time on a hobby or learning something new.
At Awfis, we understand the demands of time on our driven, entrepreneurial customers, and do our best to support their need to work – and unwind – flexibly. Have some thoughts on how workspaces can enable better time management? Or have more time management tips to share? Do write in with your comments and let our other Awfis-goers benefit too!