How to Avoid Multitasking for Greater Productivity

Flatiron School / 30 October 2012

The following is a guest post by Nikhil Thomas and originally appeared on his blog. Nikhil is currently a student a The Flatiron School. You can learn more about him here, or follow him on twitter here.

One of the biggest mistakes we tend to make is placing a massive emphasis on multitasking. We tend to hero worship people who can juggle many projects, especially entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey. However, I’ve personally found that multitasking actually makes me less productive overall and hurts my ability to focus. Over the years, I’ve come up with a personal system that helps me stay on task for better results. I hope it helps you too.

I have just a few simple guidelines to keep. Everything else can be customized, but you want to avoid switching costs as much as possible. Research shows that there is a net loss and risk to jumping between tasks, so do your best to keep your mind singularly focused with the following tips.

Block off short periods of time

This is a concept core to scrum and agile, and it works very well. I like to use one hour blocks in my day where I’ll pick a task and work on only that for the duration of the block. Keep a hard and fast rule to the time limit though, it isn’t about finishing in an hour necessarily. It’s about focusing on one problem at hand and giving it all your attention.

Work with a partner

When I work by myself, I find it easy to lose track of time. I might be writing for 15 minutes, then decide to quickly check the front page of Reddit. One minute turns to 20 and before I know it, my hour of time is almost up. However, having someone to keep you on track helps a lot. You want to work with someone you trust and respect, someone whose time you won’t waste.

Work backwards from the result

One thing I’ve noticed is that if I don’t clearly define a goal, I’ll meander blindly through a project hoping to eventually hit the end. I stumbled on this post about productivity and began to apply the first tip and quickly saw improvements. When you block off a period of time for work, start by writing down what your end result should look like. Then work directly to that point. Anything that doesn’t get you there is a time deficit. Avoid deficit spending.

Hopefully you’ll be able to take something away from this. I’m still looking for ways to get the most out of my time and would love any comments you have. Let me know what you think!

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