The hardest thing to learn is not “how to juggle,” but how to let the balls drop.”  Anthony Frost

“My name is Lisa, and I am a multitask-aholic.”

(Hi, Lisa…)

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a support group where already overextended HR professionals could come together and share the burdens of having to do everything all at once?

Multitasking has become the modus operandi of the corporate world, and Human Resources is no exception.  Because of the involvement of HR professionals in so many aspects of a business, they often feel they have to multitask in order to succeed. With days filled with planned and unplanned meetings, recruiting, hiring and training new employees, along with taking care of payroll, benefits, employee relations, and everything else in the mix, there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.  –Amanda Banach, Demand Media

Human Resource specialists often feel that they are accomplishing more when they work on several projects at once, but in actuality they are less productive.  Research shows that chronic multitaskers have trouble ignoring irrelevant information (oops, time to check my email; I’ll be right back.)  They have trouble organizing their working memory and they switch from one task to another inefficiently.  Multitasking leads to more stress, less sleep and a feeling of always being on the hamster wheel.  Not fun.

So how do you break the multitasking habit?

According to a famous skit that Bob Newhart did several years ago on Mad TV, there are two words that will cure you – STOP IT!  It’s a magical mindset and a constant reminder. You may find it helpful to encourage yourself as well as those you work with to just “STOP IT!”

Here are some tips to get work done efficiently and effectively – without multitasking:

1.  Concentrate on one activity at a time and work on it until it’s done or until you’ve reached a logical place to stop.  Let’s say that you have an hour and you want to get the following tasks done:  (1) Sort through a stack of resumes, (2) Check your email, and (3) Send follow-up letters to potential candidates.  You often get so involved with getting through all of the resumes or checking your email that that’s the ONLY thing that you get done (and the emails keep coming.)  It doesn’t make you feel very productive, does it?

Instead, use a timer (every Smart Phone now has one) and distribute the time you have to get done what you want.  Using the above example, you may choose to set the timer for thirty minutes to go through the resumes.  When the timer goes off, no matter where you are in the process – STOP!  Set the timer again for fifteen minutes to take care of your email/internet tasks and again, when the timer goes off – STOP.  You now have fifteen minutes to write your correspondence.  If any of the tasks don’t take as long as you’ve given them, congratulations.  Take a break before embarking on the next round of tasks.  The key is to assign to each task less time that you think it will actually need.  You’ll surprise yourself with how much more productive you are when working within a time constraint versus when you’re left to your own devices.  (Think about how much you get done right before you go on vacation.)

2. Turn off your email notifications and other distractions.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but minor interruptions can cause major inefficiencies in your work day.  When you look away from what you’re doing, even if only for a few seconds, it takes longer for you to readjust and get back into the groove.  Chances are good that you will also make more mistakes than if you had kept to the task at hand.  Start to notice and track the things that distract you throughout the day.  Once you are aware of how often these incidents happen, you can prepare yourself to reduce or eliminate them from your day.

A great gift to share with your family or other significant people in your life is to “unplug” when you are with them.  Begin to have dedicated time that you will not be checking email, answering calls, or working online. Give your attention to the important people in your life, even if you start off with a thirty-minute time slot in the evening.  Work can wait.

3.  Take a break.  Make sure you get away from your office during the day.  Go out to lunch, or if it’s a beautiful day, sit outside, enjoy the sunshine and converse with colleagues or friends.  Not only does taking a physical and mental break from your work recharge you and give you more energy to get your tasks done, you’ll build stronger relationships as well

It’s also helpful to set up a few interruption-free times to stick to your goals.  Schedule these times on your calendar and stick to them.  You may decide that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 – 11:00 that you are not going to schedule any meetings.  This will give you a regular block of time to get focused on the projects you want to complete.

Which balls will you let DROP today?  Start saying “no” more often and give yourself the time to pay attention to each task.  You’ll feel better about yourself, your time will become your own, and you can once again become a human BEING instead of a human DOING.

Additional Info about the author: As Founder of Grategy, Lisa Ryan works with organizations to create stronger employee and customer engagement, retention and satisfaction.  Her proven gratitude strategies (Grategies) lead to increased productivity, passion and profits. She is the author of six books, and co-stars in two documentaries: the award-winning: “The Keeper of the Keys,” and “The Gratitude Experiment.”

photo credit: Gabriel Rojas Hruska via photopin cc

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