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The Multitasking Myth: How To Truly Increase Productivity


Nadia Tatlow

CEO - 07 Dec, 2018


Multitasking is a skill that's often prized in the business world. Companies like to see applicants who exhibit the ability to juggle multiple projects, clients, or accounts at once.

It's true, though, that multitasking isn't the most conducive to productivity, and there’s more and more and more research coming out all the time to support this. Unfortunately, balancing multiple workflows simultaneously is the reality for anyone who’s on-the-job responsibilities include managing projects and clients.

How can we, as marketers with many different priorities, manage this conflict in a way that allows us to best serve the needs of multiple stakeholders at once?

More Multi-Tasking Equals Less Productive Work

According to Forbes, 98 percent of the population thinks they can multitask effectively, but only 2 percent actually can. This leads to millions of professionals in offices across the world, trying to juggle multiple responsibilities and failing.

Researchers at Stanford University found that when we stretch our focus over a larger number of tasks, all of them suffer in quality. This is because when we multitask, our brain power suffers and we become less equipped to perform our role in completing a project or handling the needs of a client.

Many content marketing professionals juggle numerous priorities day-to-day, but we are committed to time blocking, and respecting one another’s individual highest productivity hours. By creating—and practicing—simple rules like sending a quick Slack message before interrupting a colleague makes a huge difference.

So, for those of us working with external demands and clients where these rules don’t always work quite as well, how do we do right without falling victim to the unproductive busyness that accompanies multi-tasking?

Here are a few strategies that we use at Shift to avoid the pitfalls of being stretched too thin:

Get Better at Prioritizing

multitasking prioritization

For the vast majority of people, it's near-impossible to concentrate on two things at once. What we can do, however, is distill our focus into groups, separated by importance. This is prioritization, and it's one of the most important skills to learn if you want to be more productive.

Stop, sit down, and look at all your current tasks at once. It's likely that some are more important or urgent than others. For example, if you have three client meetings this week, and three next week, focus on tasks for clients you're meeting with this week before addressing those for next week. This allows you to manage distractions and focus on the most important tasks.

Learn to Stop Being a Perfectionist

It's one thing to have standards for your work; it's another to expect your final products to be perfect. Researchers from the Harvard Business Review found that the rise in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression may be caused by a rise in professionals' standards for their work.

Not only does having unrealistic standards for your work hurt pose mental health risks, but it also damages your ability to effectively manage multiple clients or projects. Learn how to be satisfied with your work on one project so you can move onto the next and not spend too much time it when you have other responsibilities to attend to.

Use Better (Not More) Programs

If you're like most professionals, you use a lot of programs for your job: Slack to strategize with your team, mail accounts for client communications, Google Drive for content creation and asset management, and other tools like HubSpot SEO, Salesforce CRM, and more.

More and more often, the most productive people are finding new ways to organize their programs using aggregating tools — platforms that combine the programs you use to make it easier to manage responsibilities rather than using overlapping apps that complicate your ability to streamline your work.

With Shift, we've created a more productive workstation that combines all the apps, email accounts, and tools you use in your work and personal lives into one interface. Our goal is to help make it easier to organize and manage workflows, without all of the regular distractions and logging in and out that comes with doing work in a browser.  

Trust Your Team

It can be difficult to relinquish control, but if you have are lucky enough to have a team at your disposal, learning to delegate can make you more productive and help you avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking.

Research from the Harvard Business Review found that in companies where leaders can effectively delegate tasks to their team earn about 20 percent more on average.

Set Realistic Timelines

set realistic deadlines

Effective time management is another tool mastered by productive people. Instead of working on several projects at the same time, set realistic deadlines to finish work, and make sure you finish them on time. When combined with the ability prioritize the most important work, realistic time goals can ensure that you're able to devote sufficient time to each task you take on.

Measure Your Results

Many of these strategies to improve productivity take some time to fine-tune. Measure your results against your plans. What went wrong and what went right? What needs to be changed or tinkered with in the future? Over time, you'll find yourself more equipped to handle a heavy workload without bogging down your mind by trying to handle more than you can at once.

The Bottom Line

The big idea you should take away is that very few people are able to split their focus between more than a few tasks and remain productive in their jobs.

Your brain just isn't built to simultaneously handle more than one stream of information at a time. These strategies are designed to help you work with the limitations of your focus, not against them. The end result will be the ability to be more productive in a role that asks you to manage multiple projects or clients at once.