To Multi-Task or Not? That is the Question

One month after attending a workshop by Management Consultant Janine McDonald, I decided to test the theory that multi-tasking is in fact NOT the most effective way to accomplish several things in a short period of time. Her theory was that instead of trying to accomplish multiple things at once, your time was better spent dividing into slots for each task you need to accomplish and focusing on one thing at a time until you complete the entire list. At the time, I was working in a high-volume, high stress environment. I was looking for a way to be more efficient so I put this theory to the test and made a schedule of my main duties, prioritized them and assigned each of them a day. For example-

Monday: Evaluation of new contracts, reviewing requests for extended terms, & collection activity.

Tuesday: Processing credits for returns and other adjustments and costing scraped parts.

Wednesday: Recruiting new clients

Thursday: Miscellaneous research & problem resolution, responding to emails, reviewing new orders.

Friday: Billing and payments.

After finalizing the schedule I emailed it to the appropriate departments and asked them to please keep the schedule in mind when making requests of me. At first the response was chilly. The office "norm" was to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by a more than reasonable amount of requests from clients & co-workers all at once and to spend an entire day doing a little of everything without fully accomplishing any one project. My co-workers were upset that I had assigned duties to a specific day & didn't appreciate that everything had to wait until it's designated time (although I did clearly state that I would make allowances for urgent matters regardless of the assigned day). The goal was not to upset anyone, but on the contrary, to please everyone by being more effective at my job.

Fast forward 1 week after implementation and I received 3 compliments on the efficiency of my new schedule. An engineer came in my office on a Monday with a stack of papers & asked "What day do you process SRR's?" I replied "Tuesdays" he responded with a smile "Okay, I'll come back tomorrow." The new system worked. My colleagues began to see the value in my not multi-tasking but instead targeting projects one at a time. They saw that they will get what I promised, when I promised it. It added structure to the department & gave everyone visibility of when they can reasonably expect something from me. No more emails and phone calls asking "Did you get that done, did you get my email, when do you think I can have ____ back from you??" I realize that not everyone's job is structured like mine was, but even if it's not at work, I encourage you to look at the areas in your life where you can "think outside of the box".

We all have the power to control our circumstances & environment, at least to some extent. Don't settle for status quo, & above all else, don't allow people to stress you out with unrealistic expectations. Use your brain power to create a better way to do something. Even if you encounter a little resistance at first, it will be worth it once your idea works. People will see the value in it & they will commend you! If it doesn't work, don't be discouraged. You can always go back to way the way it was and keep thinking of new solutions!


*Originally Published November 2014