multitaskingOne cursory internet search for help with multitasking will turn up pages and pages of the very helpful advice: don’t. Yeah, people say multitasking reduces efficiency, that it isn’t an effective way of getting things done… and I’m not saying that’s wrong, in the long term. Here in the real world, however, we know that sometimes multitasking is unavoidable, at least in short bursts. Even as I write this blog I’m switching back and forth between my emails, IMs, to do lists, and keeping an eye on the time to make sure I eat lunch at a normal, civilised lunch-eating hour.

They say that Millenials are particularly well-adapted to multitasking because they’re so used to changing their focus between various devices, apparently switching their attention on average 27 times an hour. I would say this is true of anyone who spends much time online for work or leisure, Millenial or not, but even if it doesn’t come naturally the chances are you’ll find yourself having to do it at some point. The trick is not having a meltdown.

So, even though I’m not advocating taking up multitasking full-time, here are some ways to do it most effectively when needs must.

First thing’s first, lay the foundations

If you know your day is going to be multitasking-heavy, it will seriously help to take some time to prepare for the assault course ahead before you start doing anything. This can mean making sure everything’s where it should be (in the right folder, or whatever), or opening all the essential tabs in your browser, or just tidying up so you’ve got space to work. This is the business equivalent of what Jamie Oliver says at the start of 15 Minute Meals: you need to get into the right mindset, otherwise you’ll be spending your time multitasking between mundane admin and housekeeping jobs instead of the important things.

Mix and match

There’s a very interesting article about how when we think we’re multitasking we’re actually just switching very quickly between different tasks. So here’s a useful tip brought to you straight from science: there are some things we find very difficult to do at the same time because they want to use the same part of our brain – like writing an email and talking on the phone, as neuroscientist Earl Miller takes as his example, because they both involve stringing together words in some kind of sensible order. The lesson being that trying to do two or more similar tasks is doomed to fail.

What you need to do instead is match up compatible tasks. I, for example, sticking to my lunch plan, am currently typing this with one hand while eating a sandwich. This is doable because the part of my brain required to bite, chew, and swallow chicken salad on multiseed batch bread is not the same part needed to spell and punctuate. Which doesn’t mean I am actually doing them simultaneously (science says no) but I can switch between them rapidly enough to give that illusion and get them both done.

Sort your priorities out

Multitasking doesn’t mean just doing all your jobs at once in a haphazard and ultimately futile manner; prioritising is still essential. I find a good plan of action is to draw up a list of tasks in order of urgency and then start at the top. When you’re inevitably interrupted by something else that needs doing – an email that needs replying to, a phone call that needs taking – you can do it and then return to your list. This way you can retain some semblance of order and not lose track of what you need to do and what you’ve already done.

Automate, mate

The easiest way of all to multitask is to do things without even doing them. I’m talking about automating your client experience, with online booking and calendar integrations that sort out your diary for you and take away all those little fiddly organisation tasks that just eat your time up. With Appointedd you can even set up automatic email and SMS reminders that will totally streamline the process of doing business and let you do your thing while keeping clients happy at the same time.

Published on 14 January 2016