In today’s busy world, it probably seems like the ability to multitask is no longer a talent — it’s a necessity. At any given time, we tend to have several things that all need done right away, and none of them can you put off until later.
Some people are better than others at juggling responsibilities. But none of us are immune to the stress involved with multitasking. Not that multitasking itself is the cause of the stress. Worry that you won’t be able to get everything done and get it done well enough is the cause. Multitasking is the attempt at solving the problem.
In reality, it’s not really possible to get the same quality when you’re doing multiple things as when your brain is focused on just one. So when possible, prioritize. What is the most important thing that needs done? Do that, do it well, then move on to the next most important thing on the list. Of course, you can’t indefinitely put off cooking dinner or picking up the kids at school while you finish your work for the day. But where you can, try to do one thing at a time, and do the most important first in case you run out of time.
Another way to reduce stress is to delegate some of your responsibilities to others. At work, it may mean allowing your peers or subordinates to handle more of the work load, and at home it may mean relying on your spouse or children more. A lot of people have difficulty trusting others to get things done as well as they believe they can, so they try to do too much and don’t end up getting it done well anyway. Learn to delegate. Learn to accept things not always being perfect. Not only will delegating make your life easier, it will make the people around you feel more valuable to you, strengthening those relationships.
Where you have no other alternative but to multitask, multitask the right way. You still need to prioritize, but prioritize within small blocks of time, maybe even as short as five minutes. While you’re spending five minutes or ten minutes on one task, focus all your mental energy on that task. When you switch, don’t allow your mind to linger on what you just did or what you’ll be doing next.
It isn’t easy, but it’s how you have to approach it if you’re going to be efficient about multitasking. Remember, what you’re doing is juggling. And if you were literally juggling balls, you need to focus on the ball coming into your hand before you think about the next. You just need to think and transition from one to the next very quickly.
When your responsibilities distract you from focusing on just one, no matter for how briefly, you’re going to start stressing about the other things you need to be doing while you’re doing one. And as your work suffers, the frustration and stress will continue to grow until stress is producing more stress.
So when you can, don’t multitask, but when you have to, multitask the right way.