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Wish you were achieving more? Try doing less.

We’ve all heard of multi-tasking, with women often heralded as being much better at it than men. But is there any truth in it?

Whilst there is scientific evidence that we, as females, are better at multi-tasking, it doesn’t mean that we’re actually good at it, or that we are, in fact, multi-tasking. Rather than multi-tasking, we’re actually switch tasking. Spoiler-alert; multi-tasking isn’t really a thing!

Rather than doing several things at once, think of it instead as switching quickly between two or more tasks. For every switch we make, there’s a cost. That cost comes in the form of time and accuracy penalties, which in turn leads to a higher level of stress. The cost of switching is generally lower in women than men, but there’s a cost none the less.

Say, for example, you are attempting to write an email whilst listening to a radio programme. You brain will be switching between digesting the dialogue you’re hearing and trying to organise your thoughts to compose your email. This switching means it takes you longer to write the email and you are more likely to make errors as you go, resulting in a lower quality product and increased cortisone (stress hormone) levels in your body.

Have you ever noticed how you feel when you’re trying to get something done and you’re constantly being interrupted? Frustration, increased tension, brain fog...this is the pain of switch tasking. And we so often inflict it on ourselves!

Is it ever possible to effectively do two things at once? Yes…but the instances are limited. Let me introduce you to ‘back-tasking’, short for background tasking. Back-tasking can be effective, providing you select the right tasks. At least one of the tasks, if not both, must require low attention. For example, running on a treadmill while listening to a podcast or talking to a friend while weeding the garden. Activities like these can be great ways to use your time effectively and maximise your outputs, so pick wisely.

Every three minutes and five seconds, knowledge workers are interrupted. This could be the ping of an email, the buzz of a phone notification, a social media alert or one of many other distractions. This clearly has consequences on our own concentration and productivity, but what does it mean for the teams we lead or the individuals we interact with? How can we be present for our people if we are constantly being interrupted?

We all know how it feels. Think back to the last conversation you had with someone when they were clearly dividing their attention between you and something else. Were they glancing at their phone as they ‘listened’ to you? Was there a delay when you asked them a question as they quickly tried to focus on you and guess what you had asked them, or worse, they provided an answer that paid no bearing to the question you asked?

It’s not only frustrating but it’s also hugely demoralising when you feel someone isn’t giving you their full attention. It makes you feel undervalued and erodes the sentiment you hold for that person.

So, what can we do to make ourselves more efficient and as present as possible for those around us?

  • Focus on one thing at a time. No surprises here! By isolating tasks and running them sequentially rather than concurrently, not only will you be more efficient and save time, you’ll also be more accurate and feel less stressed.

  • Carve out time to download your thoughts between meetings. In a world of back-to-back meetings, as little as five minutes gives you the opportunity to capture your thoughts from your discussion, get your notes straight, and clear space to focus on the next meeting with your team member, make it 15 minutes if you can.

  • Switch off all distractions; if it’s not possible to close your laptop and switch off your phone, turn off notifications and put your status to ‘do not disturb’ so that you can be fully present for your meeting, both you and your colleague will get far more from your time together.

  • Your calendar is your time management friend. Rather than work from a to-do list, schedule your tasks into your diary so that you can allocate the necessary time and deter distractions. You’ll get more done and you’ll feel more organised. This’ll also help you be realistic about the time it takes to complete tasks so that you can better manage your time going forward.

Try these four easy tactics for a week, and let me know how you get on. And if you’d like further support to increase your productivity, visit or drop me a DM.

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