How to Stay on Task (When You Have to Multi-Task)

By Eroh K | Strong Female Leaders

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How to Stay on Task When You Have to Multi-Task?
Despite the lack of focus and therefore productivity produced by multi-tasking, knowledge professionals continue to be asked to juggle the demands of multiple teams and projects at the same time. Switching focus between tasks, contexts and roles requires time and energy. If not managed correctly, it can be stressful and counter-productive. Additionally, you are also juggling different team cultures, including trust between team members, daily routines and inside jokes, all of which require your attention and energy. So how can you handle spreading your time among multiple tasks, projects and teams, and still stay focused and charged? Start with a solid strategy that incorporates the following tips:

1. Visualize and plan for the long term.
Focusing on immediate work puts you in a reactive mindset. To get more proactive, schedule work and tasks for as far ahead as you can. (We recommend one year ahead, if possible.) Then, break each project into tasks and subtasks, set frequent milestones, deadlines and status updates, and form expectations early. In case of competing priorities, frequent checkins can help you connect with those who establish truly urgent tasks versus superficial priorities.

2. Focus on one thing at a time.
Your brain does not physically multi-task; juggling thoughts hinders progress. To maximize productivity, pick one task, and preferably one that requires the most focus, and push through with undivided attention til' it is complete. No matter how much other work you have on your plate, when you are on this singular task, it is your one-and-only job at the moment.

To keep your mind from wandering, define the outcome first and steps to achieve it. Also, plan a reward at the end. It could be as simple as a cup of latte, a piece of chocolate, or a brisk walk around the block. As long as you follow through until the work is truly done.

3. Guard your mental space.
High-priority tasks require mental space. Therefore, reserving and protecting your mental space is important. To guard yourself from distractions, perform simple practices such as switching on automatic replies on emails and mobile phones, unplugging landlines, and logging off of social media.

Treat your mental space like prime real estate. Protect it because it is valuable.

4. Block your time, and show it on your calendar.
Just like mental space, your time is also sacred. Protect it by blocking your schedule for high priority to do's. Setting boundaries and reflecing it on your schedule not only remind you of doing what's important first, but also allows you the necessary space to get things done. When you complete one task, on one project, with one block of time, you have the peace of mind to move on to the next task, on a different project, with a different time allowance.

5. Make progress transparent.
When you have multiple people to respond to, transparency is key. It is important for reporting progress, and even more important for disclosing issues and impediments that you face. The earlier you address issues, the more trustworthy you look, as long as your next move is to find a resolution.

Parting Thoughts
There are significant financial benefits of multi-teaming, and therefore multi-tasking, for knowledge professionals. This new way of working will eventually become a new way of life. As a multi-tasking professional, instead of feeling defeated by multiple demands, you can rise above the challenge. Manage your attention, time and mental space well, and you will rise like the star you are.

Need more help? The books below are good resources.
1) The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn't, and Get Stuff Done
2) Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
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[ Disclaimer: this article includes affiliate links.]

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