Heading into the busiest time of year, I’ve been thinking about how to be more efficient at work. Often, we want to do everything at once—ensuring each task gets marked off our to do list so we can feel accomplished at the end of the day.
While multitasking seems efficient, it's actually quite difficult to switch between two different tasks.
The difficulty of "task switching" was popularized in a 1995 study by Robert Rogers and Stephen Monsell in which participants were asked to carry out two trials of task A, followed by two trials of task B, then back to task A.
They found the response times of switching between unrelated tasks was slower than switching between similar tasks--indicating it takes longer to complete different tasks if you switch back and forth instead of doing similar ones sequentially.
Thinking about this on a larger scale (all day) with more complex tasks (the day-to-day tasks of a market researcher), the cost only grows. I lose more time on days when I have lots of smaller tasks for many projects compared to days spent on bigger tasks for fewer projects.
Returning to the goal of improving day-to-day efficiency, here are four tips to lighten the cognitive load and reduce time spent “getting into a new mindset”:
- Schedule similar tasks back-to-back. For example, split your day by number-y (e.g., data cleaning) and word-y (e.g., report writing, emails) types of tasks.
Take breaks between each task to reset. Often, we’re still partially thinking about a previous task when starting a new one. Take a walk around the office or a simple deep breath to clear your mind before tackling your next “to do.”
Stop trying to do everything at once. Stop reading emails the second they arrive. Block time on your calendar for each task you need to finish. Stick to those blocks by only working on that one thing during that time, even if that means closing Outlook and Skype for an hour. Your mind thinks you’re being productive when you’re doing things simultaneously, but in reality it's costing you time.
- Reevaluate your strategies. The second you feel like you’re not being efficient and the day is getting away from you, take a step back and think about how and why that happened. How can you make the most of your remaining time? How can you improve your workflow for a better and more productive tomorrow?
Hopefully these simple tips can help guide your productivity!
Written by Laura Blazej, a Data Manager I who loves her calendar schedule and hates wasted time.
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