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Learn to Focus by Unlearning to Multitask

Learn these 5 keys to productivity, including prioritizing, focusing, and systems, to stop multitasking so that you can be more productive.

Many people brag about their ability to multitask and get so much done in their day. But in reality, multitasking isn't the wonderful advantage that people believe it to be. Studies by Stanford University prove it's bad for work quality, as well as for your brain. The fact is, when you are trying to do so many things at once, few of those tasks are done well. If you’re a victim of societal pressure to multitask, you need to unlearn the multitasking habit and learn to focus on one thing at a time.

I get it -- your life is busy. But if you truly want to focus on what you're doing, and do it well, you have to stop multitasking. You shouldn't be checking your email on your phone while watching your children’s sports activities. You shouldn't check Facebook while you’re supposed to be working on client work. In both cases, something or someone suffers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when multitasking is fine, such as folding laundry and watching TV or talking on the phone. But, when you're ready for work or one-on-one time with your kids or spouse, you need to stay focused.

  • Prioritize. The best way to plan your day is to do it the night before. When you're ready to stop working for the day, think about what really needs to be done the next day and in what order it needs completion. Write your plan before you leave your office, even if that office is your kitchen table, and it will be ready for you the next morning. You will be able to get started right away instead of spending valuable time trying to devise a plan.
  • Focus. When you start the first thing on your list, focus only on that. Do not check your email, look at Facebook or talk on the phone until that task is complete. When it’s done, take a break and answer any emails that came in or return phone calls. The more you stay focused on what you're doing, the less time you'll spend on it or correcting mistakes you made because you were thinking about something else while you were working.
  • Schedule everything. Set up a project management system like Google Calendar or Basecamp to schedule everything you need to do, including fun. If you make it a habit to put the hard dates in first, such as appointments, deadlines, children’s games, lessons, and so forth, you’ll become a lot more efficient at getting things done.
  • Inform everyone. Your clients and family need to know your schedule. Share your Google Calendar with them so that they know what you’re doing. Explain to clients that you only check email three times a day, and tell them what times. Keeping a clear differentiation between work and home can be hard, but it will make you more productive in the long run.
  • Set up systems. Nothing is more important than setting up systems. This goes for your work as well as your home. If you know that you won’t go to bed until the kitchen sink is shiny, then it’ll get done. If you know that you're working on a certain client’s work between 10 am and 2pm each day, then you know what is getting done. It really is as simple as that.

Unlearning multitasking and relearning to focus on each moment and task of your day at the time you’re doing it can sometimes seem hard. But if you turn off the distractions and use your calendar wisely, you’ll soon find that you can get so much more done than you ever thought possible. Plus, you’ll get it done well, too.

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