You probably rigorously nod your head and say, “Ugh, yes, me too!” whenever you hear someone say they’re a huge multitasker. Personally, I’m the queen of multiple windows, darting between email and Word, Google Docs and notes, Facebook and my phone.
Trust me, I’m not proud of it. I know what all the research out there says, like how it negatively affects the efficiency and quality of your work. And that when I’m really overloading myself, things fall through the cracks: a message from my manager, an email from a writer, a genius idea for my next article.
While I know there are apps out there to solve this problem for me, I’ll be honest and say they don’t work for me. But that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook!
And that’s why I’m constantly looking for other hacks that’ll force me to focus on one activity at a time. I haven’t found the perfect solution yet, but here are a few quick tricks that really do wonders for me.
1. Make it Full Screen
Seems easy enough, right? Whatever you’re working on, make it big and bold in front of you (and large enough to cover everything else). This is as simple as dragging your document to fit the whole screen, or utilizing the full screen tool—pressing the green button on your Mac or pressing F11 on your PC.
2. Minimize Other Windows
Similarly, rather than press that dreaded red “X” button on all your tabs, just shift on over to the yellow minimize sign and keep everything that might distract you out of sight. Doing this means you can rest assured that your upcoming to-dos aren’t gone, but waiting for you when the time is right.
3. Save Your Links
This is a strategy I use often. If there’s a website I want to check out, or a link I don’t want to forget about, I’ll toss it in my digital to-do list with a comment about it for later, such as “Read this article” or “Check out this website and report back to Sharon.”
4. Find the Mute Button
Everything has a mute button—you just have to be brave enough to use it. iPhones have a “Do Not Disturb” button (which I use all the time even if my phone’s sitting across from me), Gmail lets you mute email chains (or, you can use this nifty tool to hide your inbox—OK, sometimes I use apps), and many company messaging apps let you log out or show you’re “busy.”
If you’re stressed at being out of touch, remember: It’s not for forever, just for the time being.
5. Fill in the Blanks Later
A little tip from one multitasker to another: You know when you’re working on a presentation or report and you can’t remember how to spell one person’s last name, or what that one study is called, or some other random fact that’s slipped your mind?
These are traps—one minute you’re looking it up, next thing you know you’re knee deep in the internet with no memory of how you got there. Instead of going down that rabbit hole, just use placeholders for now and keep going.
6. Number Your Tasks
It’s easy to look at a bunch of bullets and try tackling them two at a time, but it’s harder to see an ordered list and do it, well, out of order. Number your tasks by importance and urgency and then go down the list. Tell yourself you can’t move on until that task is finished.
If you successfully train yourself to think this way, assignments will look less like a collection of items due at the end of the day and more like a list of things you need to check off one by one.
7. Keep a To-Do List
Finally, the oldest and greatest trick in the book: When something begins to distract you from the task at hand, write it down. Don’t try to do it now because we all know where that leads.
Instead, leave yourself a helpful reminder on your to-do list such as “[Name] needs a response” or something random like “order contacts” and get back to work. You’ll never forget a thing, and everything will get done eventually.
I’m not saying that apps and productivity hacks aren’t a great solution for the worst of multitaskers (and I’ve heard the Pomodoro technique works like a charm), I’m just saying I prefer more traditional avenues—and that’s OK if you do, too.
Test out my tips for kicks, and let me know how they went on Twitter!