If you’re like many women, you’ve become accustomed to multitasking. I know I used to wear my multi-tasking skills like a badge of honor.
But, here’s the hard truth — as much as we’d like to think otherwise, the reality is that multitasking isn’t really efficient or productive. Like, not at all.
One of the biggest reasons that we aren’t actually being efficient or productive when we multitask is because multitasking involves something called context switching.
I first learned about context switching during The 90 Day Year program and believe me, as a devout multi-tasker, I was not convinced at first.
Here’s the basic premise on context switching: when you’re working on two things at once there is a hard cost to your productivity as your brain constantly switches back and forth between the task. in fact, Todd Herman, the creator of The 90 Day Year, argues that you lose 20% of productivity for every hour you spend juggling tasks instead of just focusing on one thing.
As I mentioned, I was not convinced that this whole productivity loss thing applied to me. I thought, “I’m a master multi-tasker, so surely I’m not suffering at the evil hands of this so-called context switching.”
But, I was convinced by my then boss to give it a try. And, to be honest, I was blown away by the results.
By focusing on a single task for a concentrated amount of time, I was able to accomplish so much more and my quality was better.
I have slowly integrated this into my everyday routine, which has been especially valuable now that I’m a service-based business owner.
Here’s a few ways to avoid context switching each day:
Stay out of the inbox
It’s always just “I’ll reply to one email” that starts the time suck that is your inbox. I do my best each day to stay out of my inbox for 3 hour blocks before and after lunch.
I’d honestly love to be one of those people who only checks once a day, but that just isn’t realistic for me. So instead, I do a quick check first thing in the morning — and I strictly limit this to just 30 minutes so it remains truly quick.
Then, I close out my email and focus on client work, calls, or business-building for 3 hours (with breaks of course). Then, I spend about an hour in my inbox after lunch before starting my afternoon work session.
Turn off notifications
I turn social media notifications off on my computer and my phone during work sessions. This helps prevent me from being distracted by pings when I’m trying to get things done.
Focus on one client at a time
I’m usually doing work for 7 to 10 retainer clients at any given time, which can feel like chaos. To help manage this, I do my best to work on only one client’s tasks for the day in designated blocks of time.
Then, I wrap up each day with a list of priorities for each client. Although we use project management software to coordinate ongoing projects, I love to do these daily lists on paper.
I prioritize by due date and type of work throughout the day. I like working on rote tasks towards the end of the day for instance so, if I can, I leave those for later.
It’s not always a perfect system, but completing all the day’s tasks for client A before diving into the work for client B helps me be way more efficient.
Set up an environment for success
Since it’s already somewhat chaotic juggling multiple clients and types of tasks in a given day, I take a few minutes to set my work environment each morning.
This might mean clearing my desk a bit, putting away some clothes (or toys, depending on who has invaded my office), or just making sure I have my favorite pins, notebook, etc available.
Taking 5-10 minutes to do this makes a huge difference in my productivity for the day, so it’s well worth it.
I also like to have some background noise going to help me focus. So, I’ll find a good classical YouTube station to turn on.
Doing this helps me stay on task because I’m less likely to get distracted by a pile of papers in my way or the construction noise from outside.
So this week, why not be more aware of the impact context switching is having on your productivity. Work towards integrating one change this week and see how it makes a difference in your day.