Forbes.com recently ran an article on "10 Ways to Become Better at Your Job Today," and I'm happy to see that "stop multi-tasking" comes in at #2. As I've said before, there's a big difference between having strong organizational skills that enable you to manage multiple concurrent projects and being the type of person who is actually doing (or trying to do) several things at the same time.
Tip #6 - arrive 15 minutes early - is a great way to get a jump start on the day. And even though getting up a little earlier can feel rough at first, it almost always feels better than sticking around an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day. It can give you time to organize your day and knock out the tasks you really wish you could just put off.
I also really like tip #8 - to aim for clarity. The article uses the example of making a phone call or an in-person visit instead of shooting off an email when handling a delicate situation (though, of course, there are certainly times when an email might make more sense than a phone call). It's often easiest to try to handle several different communication tasks by banging out a few emails or phone calls in a row, but different situations and clients/coworkers/friends might best be handled as personal conversations.
What are some of the things you do to perform as best you can at work?
Tony Schwartz wrote a great blog post titled "The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time" for The Harvard Business Review and I wanted to share it because it's right in line with advice I often give job seekers:
Stop talking about how you're so good at multi-tasking!
There's a lot to be said for efficiently doing an excellent job of one thing through completion and then moving on to do an excellent job of the next thing. Schwartz cites a New York Times article with lots of great hard research stats on exactly how multi-tasking slows down overall time required to complete the multiple tasks and causes the tasker to make more mistakes. Schwartz also brings up the point that frequent multi-tasking can wear down workers' overall energy and result in employee burnout.
Most successful employers know this and are looking for employees who can handle prioritizing multiple concurrent responsibilities.
The ability to quickly assess what needs to be done when is really valuable - and seemingly increasingly rare in an ever more wired world. What many employers are seeking in candidates is exactly that mix of discipline, analytical thinking, and foresight to develop and execute a plan for managing all those tasks.
While you certainly shouldn't go out on job interviews telling employers how you can only do one thing, a better thing to talk about is being great at time management, doing quality work, completing tasks on schedule, and adapting to unexpected business needs.
Doesn't that sound a lot better than saying you're a multi-tasker?
An article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal focuses on how C-level executives spend their time, and one of the quotes that really jumped out was from Harvard Business School professor Robert Steven Kaplan. The article says:
He recommends executives substitute the word 'money' for 'time' when deciding how to schedule their week. "With money... you'd be more careful and judicious about it. If someone asked you for some, you'd be more likely to say no."
While this advice certainly lends itself well to executive leadership, it could easily be applied to many workers' situations. Whether an employee is a recent hire looking to impress the boss or a seasoned worker who is accustomed to taking on additional responsibilities, it can be all too automatic of a response to agree to pitch in extra.
As far as endless meetings go, the big question is how productive the meetings are. If you're actually getting a lot done in meetings, there's no reason to feel you need to spend less time in them.