Have you ever considered that multi-tasking might not be helping your productivity? I can hear you right now: “But I’m an admin! How can I get my work done if I don’t multi-task? And what’s the difference between multi-tasking and juggling? Aren’t they the same thing?” Actually, they’re not the same thing. Here’s how to shift your focus from multi-tasking to juggling.
Multi-tasking makes you less productive
Multi-tasking is the ability to do several things at the same time. You know – checking your email while talking on the phone, then talking to a colleague or manager while you’re finishing up an email, or checking your phone while you’re listening in a meeting. We all do it. We’re all trying to keep up with the sheer volume of information that we receive every single day.
The problem is research shows that multi-tasking is actually less productive than working on one thing at a time. We literally strain our brain by trying to do several things at once, because our brains can really only do one thing at a time. When we try to do more than one thing, it increases the cognitive load (the work) our brain has to do and it wears our brains out. We become less and less productive.
Avoid this multi-tasking trap
Twin multi-tasking traps make us feel like we’re more productive, and seem more exciting than working on one thing at a time. It looks like we’re getting lots of things done, but we’re not. In fact, when we multi-task, we frequently neglect our big projects in favor of work that can be done quickly. And, when we multi-task, we’re moving quickly through our work, which is more exciting than spending an hour on one project!
Balance competing interests
Juggling, on the other hand, is coping with something by adroitly balancing competing things. (“Adroitly balancing” is code for setting priorities and sticking with them.) You’re an admin. You know a multitude of things will come your way during the day. And like the most productive people, you know you have to determine your priorities so you can cover all the bases while getting the most important work done.
Set your priorities via your to-do list
When you take the time to create a meaningful to-do list and then follow it, you honor your priorities. Maybe you already use a to-do list, but you keep thinking of additional work you need to do. To combat this, you could take the time to figure out what type of organizational tool will help you keep track of both your priorities and the work that comes up while you’re actually doing the work on your to-do list.
Some people rely on planners; others use apps like Evernote, Nozbe, or ToDoist. I use Evernote and Nozbe. Nozbe contains my priorities and extended to-do list, and Evernote is where I dump those random thoughts that come to me while I’m working on my big projects. And don’t be afraid to switch it up. I get bored using the same tools all the time, so I will switch from paper to digital and back to paper. This allows me to assess the functionality of my current tools and how I’m using them.
Chunk your work
Another key component of juggling at work is chunking your work. Chunking is also a major productivity hack. When you chunk your work, you can work in sprints, not marathons. As I mentioned earlier, when you multi-task, you exhaust your brain. When you work for extended periods of time on a single task or project, you also exhaust your brain.
When you plan breaks into long stretches of work, you give your brain an opportunity to rest. Don’t forget that your brain is a muscle, and muscles need time to recover after they’ve been worked hard. When you take planned breaks, you return to your work refreshed and with lower stress levels. It makes your work more interesting, too. You might even get back to your work and discover you have new insights into how to get it done.
Be prepared for those rush projects
Finally, the best jugglers know how to keep their eyes on what’s in their hands while anticipating what’s coming up next. I’ve always thought that was a perfect description of the life of an admin. I can remember being heads down on major projects and seeing, out of the corner of my eye, my manager coming up to me with that “I’ve got a rush project for you!” look in her eye.
So, how do you juggle those “rush” projects with the major projects that you’re already working on? You take a minute. You pause and study your to-do list, your priorities, and your deadlines, and then – only after pausing – you figure out how to fit this new project into the work you already have.
You can get it all done without multi-tasking
You’re ready for this because you’re already chunking your work, which creates space to put in those last minute projects. Since you’re working in planned chunks of time with pre-planned breaks, it’s easier to fit in last-minute projects. If you’re working in 30-minute chunks of time, you know you’re going to move off that task for a few minutes anyway. You have written down your priorities and created a to-do list. So you juggle some of those tasks around, adroitly fitting in that last-minute project confident that you can, indeed, get it all done – without multi-tasking!
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