How many of us have put excellent multitasker on our resumes at some point in our careers? *sheepishly raises hand*
I would venture a guess that 99% of us have touted our mad multitasking skills at some point or another. I completely get it! We, assistants, are incredible beings. During the course of any given week, we are likely to accomplish more than most other workers in the job force. We’re doers! Unfortunately, the majority of us have bought into a lie so detrimental to our productivity that it’s holding us back from having the careers we really want. That lie is the belief that multitasking will increase our productivity. Multitasking is not only a fallacy but attempting it lowers the quality of our work and leaves us mentally exhausted.
Our brains are not designed to do two different tasks at once. Don’t believe me? Try taking the test lined out in this article. What we are really doing when we say we are multitasking is constantly switching between several different tasks. Certain studies, such as this one have even shown that certain types of multitasking can cause brain damage, lessening the grey matter in certain parts of our brains. Yikes!
Switching tasks not only takes a lot of mental energy, but it’s also time-consuming. According to research cited in this article, this switching process can take up as much of 40% of our productive time. Time which could be spent accomplishing more if our brains were switching tasks less.
Something interesting happens when we are in a state of constantly switching gears. We begin to feel like we are being productive when we are actually not. We get to the end of our day feeling exhausted and satisfied without having accomplished anything. Our “to do” list is nearly as long as it was earlier that morning. This false sense of accomplishment is based on being or feeling “busy,” which is often mistaken for true productivity. I’m sure we have all at one time or another had a coworker who complained about how busy he was but never had anything to show for his work. This false sense of accomplishment can be very detrimental for us as assistants because others rely heavily on what we actually produce.
Because multitasking requires the mind to be constantly switching from one task to another we seldom take the time to focus. A lack of focus means we never really build momentum on any of our larger projects or have the opportunity to experience “flow”.
Flow is a term often given to athletes or performers when they are “in the zone” or operating at peak performance. According to this Psychology Today article by Joachim I Krueger Ph.D., there are two key elements that must be present in order to experience flow: activity and lack of self-consciousness. Krueger also lists focus as a criterion for getting in a state of flow. Why is getting in a flow state so important? Two reasons:
As in the case with athletes and musicians, getting in a state of flow can drastically increase our performance. I don’t know about you guys, but as an assistant, I’m all about increasing my performance in order to add more value to my boss and company.
Flow can play a role in our happiness. My favorite example of this is dancing. I’m a salsa and tango dancer, and there is something absolutely divine about being led across the dance floor. I don’t have to think, I only have to “be.” The two primary elements comprising flow, activity, and lack of self-consciousness, take over and I’m totally in the moment in the happiest and fulfilling way. I can attest first hand that flow leads to happiness.
I truly believe that we assistants can achieve a state of flow, but only if we let go of our multitasking ways and embrace true focus on our work. I get that dealing with interruptions comes with the territory, but if we can achieve flow once or twice a week we will not only plow through our larger projects with higher quality outcomes, we will also be much happier in our work-life.
Side note: Can you imagine a world run by happier assistants? That’s a world I definitely want to live in!!!
Constantly switching between a variety of different tasks leads to higher stress levels. This is due to losing touch with our priorities. When we try and do multiple things all at the same time we are essentially placing all our tasks, priority or not, on the same priority playing field. Checking email becomes as important as finishing a pressing slide presentation for your boss, which becomes as important as booking a room for a trip that’s 3 months out, which becomes as important as…you get the idea.
By virtue of unintentionally making everything equally important, we will feel pressure to get everything done immediately. If, on the other hand, we allow ourselves to truly focus, prioritize, and tackle those priorities, we will see a decrease in stress, guaranteed! It’s time we stop inciting more stress on ourselves, don’t you think?
By virtue of a lack of focus and experiencing more stress, attempting to multitask results in more errors and mistakes in the work we actually manage to produce. I’ll never forget a time in my career a few years ago when I was attempting to do the job of three people. I was supporting two executives in completely different departments and had several additional outward-facing duties. The executives were literally fighting over my time, and I was getting caught in the crosshairs.
The level of stress I was feeling was insurmountable. I have one memory of trying to set up an appointment for one of my executives where I failed to include the date of the meeting in my email correspondence. The other party, a CEO, pointed out my error and was bold enough to give me advice about it. How embarrassing! Would I have made that mistake if I wasn’t under so much stress? Absolutely not! I was a seasoned professional at this point.
When we are calm and fully focused on one task we are less likely to make mistakes, plain and simple.
By now I’ve probably convinced most of you to avoid multitasking; however, you may be left wondering how to structure your day to be more productive. If not multitasking, then what?
Fortunately, I have created the Ultimate Productivity Roadmap where I walk you through my step-by-step process for how to optimize your time in the most productive way and leave the office with energy to spare.
It took me years of fine-tuning my own productivity formula for peak performance and now I’m sharing it with you. Who doesn’t love a shortcut? This Roadmap will give you solid, actionable steps that, if implemented, will lead to:
Significantly less stress
Increased rates of productivity
Stellar quality of work that will garner the respect of your boss and coworkers
More peaceful, joy-filled days
Energy to spare
Swing by next week for a little surprise. My post will be unlike anything I've ever done before!
Here's what you can expect: