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MANAGING THE OFFICE

The myth of multitasking

It’s a typical day at work. You’re on the computer, entering data, while you’re talking on the phone. A staff member comes to your office door, stack of papers in hand, and you motion for her to come in and put the papers on your desk. You continue your phone conversation, momentarily removing your hands from the keyboard in order look through the papers. You’re a multitasking dynamo!

But are you really an efficient and effective manager?

Research shows

Not according to a research study conducted by Stanford University. In fact, researchers find that the interruptions caused by switching tasks have a negative effect on the retention of information.

The problem has to do with the impact of distraction and how it affects memory. Older adults especially have difficulty reengaging quickly when tasks are interrupted.

In other words, while it may appear that a multitasker is getting a lot done, the time needed to reconnect with the tasks at hand—or reconnect fully—can make this method of working less than efficient. What’s more, because a multitasker is distracted as a result of moving back and forth between tasks—and therefore not fully engaged when performing tasks—he or she may not be all the effective.

Still touting your ability to multitask?

Alternative approach

Accomplishing a wide range of tasks at work isn’t always easy. But rather than multitask, experts recommend approaching tasks at hand individually, and with concentration and focus.

Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic, says focus is a skill that can be developed.

To improve focus, he recommends that you:

  • Reduce distractions. This means putting down your phone and logging out of your email account, for example, and concentrating on the task at hand.
  • Plan for peaks and valleys. If you’re a morning person, Sood recommends that you not squander time on email. Instead, use your morning to tackle projects that require your full concentration—and save the afternoon for going through your inbox.
  • Put it out of your mind. Too many mental notes make for a cluttered mind, and unfinished business can sap your mental energy, Sood says. He therefore recommends putting whatever is on your mind on paper or the computer. Create an actual list that you can refer to later. Then let it go.
  • Train your brain. Skills require practice, and learning to focus is no different, Sood says. He recommends attention training or meditation to practice taming distractions and improving focus.

Sharpening your focus will allow you to get more done, Sood says. As important, it will allow you to enjoy more flow, that sense of being so absorbed in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

Why is flow important?

“Flow can create a sense of fulfillment, engagement, and even contentment,” Sood says.

Less stress

If trading a frenetic pace for a calmer, focused, more productive—and happier—approach to work sounds good, it’s time for a change.

In addition to improving focus and concentration, you’ll most likely want to improve your time management skills.

People often multitask is response to poor time management. Here are a few tips to help you better manage your time:

  • Prioritize. Create a list of tasks you need to accomplish and then prioritize that list, so that you tackle the most important tasks first.
  • Schedule. Plan your workday so that you tackle tasks at designated times. Set specific times for phone calls, email, and other routine tasks so you don’t spend time going back and forth between tasks.
  • Create systems. Establish systems that work for you, such as a way to sort your email inbox. This way nothing gets overlooked, but you can address tasks at the appropriate time.
  • Delegate. Find tasks that you can delegate to your staff. This will lighten your load and give them learning opportunities.
  • Eliminate interruptions. Schedule interruption-free times of the day where you focus only on tasks requiring complete concentration. What happens if your staff needs you during this time? Read how one practice administrator designates a specific window of time each day to meet with staff in order to avoid ongoing interruptions.

An added benefit of focus, concentration, and time management is, ironically, time. When you optimize your approach to task completion, you’ll find you have more time.

You may no longer be a multitasking dynamo, but you will be a more successful manager. You’ll also reduce the stress associated with your job, which is perhaps the most important benefit of all.


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