It's not an uncommon sought-after quality – the ability to multitask. In fact, it's one of the ones that seems to impress employers the most. Multitasking is the ability to do multiple tasks at once, and a new study by Stanford University suggests that it's not only counterproductive, but it could actually be damaging your brain.
Candidates are often asked questions during an interview about the ways in which they handle stress, crisis and heavy workloads. Employers not only want to see that you can get the job done, but that you can also get it done well. When deadlines are tight, multitasking seems like an obvious solution, and employers want to know you can juggle the load.
Yet, the science is clear – multitasking isn't good for you. According to the research, workers who are regularly undergoing a barrage of digital information cannot pay attention, recall information or switch between tasks as effectively as employees who focus on finishing one task at a time. Multitasking goes against what your brain was designed to do, so it limits your job performance. When employees try to do two tasks at the same time, the brain simply cannot perform both tasks successfully.
Here are five ways you can manage deadlines and tasks without taxing your mental health.
Good Old Fashioned To-Do Lists
Each morning at the start of your workday, take a pen to a piece of paper and make a list of what you'd like to accomplish that day. Work on one deliverable at a time, marking it off the list when you have finished, and before moving on to another item on the list. Pen to paper may not be as a fancy as a task list on your smartphone, but it will help you take a break from the digital overload. A list will also help you move through your tasks in a logical order without trying to take on so much at once that it degrades your performance.
Prioritize Your Tasks
When you're planning your day or your week, organize your tasks by priority. Focus on completing the most important deliverables first, then moving on down your list to the lower priorities. Be sure to work on the most important item until it's completed before moving on down your list. Keep in mind that priorities and deadlines can change, often without much warning.
Create a Workflow
Categorize your assignments so that you are able to move fluidly from one to the next. For example, let's say you're an administrative professional working on organizing billing and reimbursements. Create a logical workflow to move from one task to the next by determining which task needs to be completed before the others can get started. Think of managing tasks like driving a car. The first thing you have to do is put the key in the ignition; nothing will move forward without that step.
Put New Items in a Queue
Multitaskers are easily distracted, making the quality of their work inconsistent. When a new item pops up, simply toss it into a queue until you have completed the current assignment. Don't look at it for too long or think about it in a way that encroaches upon the work at hand. When you finish what you're working on, take a moment to decide where on your list or in your workflow the next task should go.
Take a 5 to 10 Minute Brain Break
The human brain needs rest, just like your other muscles. You have to give it a moment of down time in order to pick back up with high-quality work. Be sure to give yourself a few minutes in between each task to let your brain calm down. Take a brief walk, go to the restroom, have a snack or chat with a coworker. Do whatever your office allows to relax for a few minutes, then move on to the next task.
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