How to Stop Multitasking and What To Do Instead
A lot of people multitask. They think "I've got so many things on my to-do list! Why should I just do one thing when I can be doing five or six?"
And in theory, it sounds great. Let's do a bunch of different things at the same time and get them all checked off! So why should you stop multitasking?
But here's the thing. According to PsychologyToday, our brains are not designed to do many things once.
What happens instead of being productive
What ends up happening is that we feel like we're being pulled in all directions. Nothing actually gets our full attention, so it takes a lot longer to do that task than it should.
When people multitask, they end up getting caught up in this whirlwind of fake productivity and everything takes so much longer. Rather than being productive, they don't actually finish anything.
Ask me how I know!
Here's what a typical day looked like for me before I figured this out:
To recap, I didn't actually finish anything. Pretty much ever. But I had a bunch of tasks that were half done.
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At this point, I feel defeated. I spent all this time and energy "cleaning" but my house doesn't feel clean at all. And I'm back to feeling overwhelmed.
So what gives? Here's a bunch of strategies to avoid multitasking.
Make a plan
According to the Cleveland Clinic, multitasking doesn't work. Here's how to stop multitasking:
The best way to not multitask? Make a plan! If you need help figuring out a plan for you, try a brain dump.
There are certain tasks that don't require multitasking; they require time to finish independently. Those are the tasks we're going to focus on to start.
First, we identify these tasks. If you're not sure what those tasks are, a brain dump can help.
Then, we're going to make a plan. We're not just going to run around. Instead, we're going to come up with a roadmap.
I want you to think of all the different things that you can do that have a lot of lead time or a lot of time spent waiting.
You're going to come up with your own list of chores or tasks that involve waiting, and another list of quick tasks that can be done while waiting.
Here are some ideas:
Finish the list with as many tasks as you can think of. Remember, you can always come back to this list later.
Next, we're going to assign times to these tasks. I know that it's going to take about 40 minutes for my laundry to be finished. I also know it takes me about 10 minutes to gather the laundry and put it in the washing machine.
If you know how many times a week you need to do that task or so, you can make a plan.
When you need to get laundry done, plan for how long it's going to take and find another task that is good for the time in between. Set a timer if you have to.
Rather than mentally being pulled in all different directions, you'll get the laundry done and one other task (two if they are both more small tasks).
It's a lot simpler to keep track of just two things going at once (maximum) than to try to juggle four or five.
There are other tasks that are best to get done all at once. Batching, or doing those tasks together, can help you while overcoming multitasking.
Emails and phone calls
Emails and phone calls are a big one. Rather than getting distracted with emails as they come in, set aside time every day to check your emails at one time and respond to them in batches.
Don't leave your email running on your screen and turn off your notifications. Let people know to call you if there's an emergency.
While you're at it, turn off other notifications on your phone. Instead, make social media an intentional treat to check when you make that decision, not when an icon flashes on your smartphone. Now you can focus on what you were doing instead of the notification.
Paying Bills and Paper Clutter
Paying bills is another fantastic task to batch. Create a spreadsheet or list in your planner of all the bills you need to pay each month.
Set aside a day each month to sit down and pay all the bills. Make it as easy as possible. Keep usernames and passwords in a spreadsheet with the URL for where you sign in. Then just go down the list and pay your bills.
Dealing with paper clutter is another great "batch" worthy task. When I bring my mail in, I first bring it over to the recycle bin. Anything I want to recycle goes directly in the bin.
Everything else goes into a basket and once a week I go through the basket and handle all the paper clutter. I either deal with it or write it down in my planner to deal with later with a specific date. No multitasking here!
Cooking is another fantastic task that can be batched. Can you make a bunch of meals and then freeze some? What about doing a bunch of prep at once?
Having a meal plan can help you batch your cooking tasks for the week. While you wait for one item to finish cooking, you can prep another one.
Your brain is focused on cooking the entire time which is more effective than trying to focus on cooking and something else if you were multitasking.
Creating freezer meals is a great way to plan out your food for an entire week and only having to really cook once. It saves you time and keeps your family fed!
Errands are a great area to batch together. Do you need to run a bunch of errands in the same general location? You can reduce your time traveling between places by going to the area once and getting everything done in one trip.
Not only can you reduce time, but you can also stop wasting gas, put less mileage on your car, and require less maintenance. Sounds like a win-win!
Also, because you're doing a lot of errands at the same time, it's less likely that you're going to be distracted. If you know you have three stops to make before you go home, you're less likely to pull out your phone to multitask.
Focus on your errands so you can get in and get out. You've got this!
If you have a lot on your plate and you're tempted to multitask, it's a great time to think about delegating some of those tasks.
Let's say you have a bunch of chores to do and you feel like you should be able to do a bunch of them at once. But we know that multitasking won't work. So what to do instead?
Pick age-appropriate tasks for your children. Small children can help sweep the floor. Older children can learn how to do laundry.
It may not get done the way that you yourself would do it, but it's important for them to learn how to take care of themselves. You won't be doing their laundry forever.
Many hands make light work. Throw on some music and make it a game! That's the type of "multitasking" I can get down with!
You know what my favorite task to delegate is? Grocery shopping! Using a grocery service is a great way to delegate a task that would take me a long time and would cause stress.
Instead, I get my groceries delivered and spend less even with the delivery fee because I don't buy stuff I don't need.
Subscription boxes can be helpful as well. Food, clothing, age-appropriate children's toys... Boxes are delivered right to your door so you don't have to go buy things. Less mental stress and time shopping for yourself!
You can also "delegate" by automating. You'll be less likely to multitask if you have less on your plate.
Some home tasks that can be automated:
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Automating tasks help me run more of my life on auto-pilot and frees up mental space. Plus something else is doing the task for me so I don't have to multitask.
Services like IFTTT can help automate as well! You can do things like automatically schedule events in your calendar directly from your email or send a text to your spouse when you leave work.
Hopefully, you have a planner and you're going to write all of this down in it.
First, we're going to make a plan! Schedule tasks so that you can focus 100% on them and get them done.
Next, we're going to batch the tasks that we can. Rather than switching our focus, we can focus on a group of tasks and get them finished more effectively.
Then, we're going to delegate what we can. Taking things off of our plate lets us focus elsewhere and things still get done.
Finally, we're going to automate as much as we can. Technology is amazing and we're going to use it to free up some brain cycles to work on other things! Use it to parent smarter, not harder!
Here's what my day might look like now:
By the end of naptime, I have a load of laundry ready to be put away, clean dishes in the dishwasher, a clean kitchen, and usually a clean laundry room depending on how long naptime takes.
Because these are important tasks to me, I feel refreshed and like I've accomplished something. I feel like I've made progress with my house and I did it with a plan.
If you're still struggling with multitasking, why not make it a goal to focus on? A great goal would be something like "Complete five things on my to-do list each week by focusing all of my attention on the task from start to finish."
If I can do it, so can you! Looking for more productivity tips? Get access to the free resource library for free goodies including templates and printables!
If you're looking for more help with organizing your time, I have an entire series dedicated to helping moms beat back the overwhelmed and change their lives. You can read more about it here: From Overwhelmed to Organized: 7 Steps for Taking Control of Your Life.