Dave Crenshaw believes the concept of multitasking is a myth. The author, speaker and business coach conducted a time-budgeting exercise with a chief executive officer for a national company. While reviewing how much time she spent in a given week, the executive was over budget in what she thought she could accomplish, Crenshaw said. The CEO, who considered herself highly adept at multi-tasking, accomplished 188 hours of work while there are only 168 hours in a week. Crenshaw learned that the extra time came from combining work research with family time. But in reality, she spent very little time with her family. Multitasking really means switch-tasking: switching rapidly between one task and another. There is a cost with each switch, no matter how quickly it takes place, Crenshaw explained. Switching-cost is an economic term, and the cost is high. Once the executive understood that the switch-tasking hurt her business and her family, she committed to make changes. The following are suggestions for managing our time realistically.
"When you switch-task with work on a computer, you simply lose efficiency. But if you switch-task on a human being, you additionally damage a relationship. Be present, listen carefully and make sure all necessary items are completed before moving on," Crenshaw advised.
"A cell phone’s ringer or vibrate mode doesn’t need to be on all the time. You can turn off e-mail notifications on your computer as well. Become master over the nagging beeps and buzzes by creating silence," Crenshaw recommended.
One of his recent clients always left his phone on all night. Crenshaw helped him commit to giving himself a break by turning off the phone at least one hour before bedtime.
"Set regular times in the day and week to check your voicemail and e-mail. Let others know your schedule, so they know when to expect a reply," Crenshaw said.
"Don’t read e-mails first thing in the morning but accomplish key tasks first. Then set a time limit on checking e-mail," advised Standolyn Robertson, president of the National Organization of Professional Organizers.
"Remember, an e-mail is not an instant message. E-mails remain until you are able to read them. If checking e-mails first thing is most effective for you, then do it. But stick to the time that you have scheduled and then move on," Crenshaw said.
Robertson advises reducing e-mail junk in your inbox by notifying family and friends that your e-mail address is for business correspondence, not for receiving jokes. Evaluate subscriptions to e-mail newsletters that you no longer have time to read or are not beneficial.
To avoid feeling stressed, determine how long you can focus on a project before you need to take a break. Then take a break, such as a walk around the office. Your focus length could be 15 minutes or 30 minutes. Set a time for your dedicated focus, and then relax your focus briefly.
Robertson recommends being clear in purpose in order to help phone calls and meetings fit within your focus limit.
"Tell your caller that only 30 minutes are available for the call, discuss the goal of the call and review what can be done to accomplish that goal in that time allotted. Establishing a time limit and purpose helps callers get to the business part of a meeting or phone call," Robertson explained.
"With Microsoft Outlook, it’s fairly simple to set rules to siphon e-mail items to the Read and Review folder automatically," Crenshaw said. "Set up these rules once, and you never have to worry about them again. The same principle applies for junk e-mail. By using your e-mail program’s Add Sender to Junk List feature, you’ll dramatically decrease time reviewing unnecessary e-mails."
Robertson’s electronic calendar notifies her one hour before a scheduled meeting or appointment. Program phone numbers into your phone so you don’t need to constantly redial them. And, if you automate your contact list and make it electronic, you aren’t recopying a paper list.
"Schedule times to complete tasks on your to-do list," Robertson suggested. "For example, if you schedule one task from 1 to 2 p.m. and another from 2 to 2:30 p.m., it will help provide perspective on how much you can accomplish in a single day."
"Don’t stop working on a draft at 5 p.m. if you expect to leave the office at 5 p.m.," Robertson advised. "Take 10 minutes to power down your computer and put away item on your desk. Take the time necessary to re-group and refresh."