One of the reasons that multi-tasking can be so detrimental to your productivity efforts is due to the reality that you are often task switching when you engage in this type of behavior. When you switch tasks, you have to spend some time making the adjustment. This is one of the reasons that you can improve your productivity by concentrating on one task at a time, instead of trying to multi-task.
However, task switching can also affect you when you move from one task to another. One of the things I’ve started doing to improve my productivity is to bunch certain tasks together so that I lose less time and productivity when moving from one task to the next.
Identifying Similar Tasks
As you consider how your day is going to progress, think about which tasks are similar to each other, and try to put those together. For example, dusting is similar to vacuuming. Paying bills, on the other hand, has more in common with sorting through junk mail. Moving from dusting to vacuuming is an easier switch than moving from dusting to paying the bills.
I’ve started applying this concept in my work day as well as to my personal tasks. Checking my email, checking comments on my blogs, and visiting my social media accounts are all tasks that are somewhat similar and require similar levels of mental exertion. Writing a blog post, though, is a different proposition altogether. So, I set aside time to write blog posts, and I go from one post to the next, bunch those tasks together. I take care of social media, email, and similar tasks at once, moving from one to the other.
I’ve also started bunching certain types of blog posts together. I have certain days when I work on shorter blog posts that don’t require as much research. It’s much easier to move from one blog post to the next when they are set up similarly. Likewise, I have other days when I concentrate more on longer, research-intensive blog posts. That way, I get into a certain frame of mind, and it’s easier to keep moving from task to task, since my brain is already set up to do something similar.
While there is still some lag when it comes to task switching, you can reduce that lag if you bunch similar tasks together. Pay attention to how you work in particular circumstances, and the way you think about and tackle your tasks. Then, identify which tasks are similar to each other, and try to bunch them together on your to-do list.
Of course, no matter what you do, the unexpected might pop up. This means that you do need to remain flexible. While it’s nice to have a basic schedule that you can follow, so that you can stay productive and on task, you also need to be willing to change things up as needed.
When my son is sick, that tends to throw a wrench in my plans. I have to change the types of tasks I planned to accomplish during the day. This can also happen if someone unexpectedly shows up, or if you have a friend who needs help. And sometimes, you have your own personal problems that can interfere with your plans.
If this happens, you need to be prepared. Instead of bunching similar tasks together, you might need to prioritize, identifying the most important tasks that need to be done, and focusing on getting those done if you can. This can slow your efforts a bit, but it is important to be prepared for this possibility.
Often, productivity requires a balance between staying on task and being able respond with flexibility when it’s needed. As a result, it’s important that you don’t get so hung up with a set schedule, and with creating a definite “way things HAVE to be.” Do your best to bunch similar tasks together and tackle them that way, but also remind yourself that sometimes things don’t go as planned you can’t let that ruin your day — or completely throw off your productivity.
Great post on combining tasks, yet remaining flexible. I always try to combine like tasks at work and at home. I start my work day by checking my schedule. It helps to know ahead of time when I have “must do” tasks. I also check email to see if there are any updates from customers or vendors that will affect my schedule, both short term and long. I then settle down to individual tasks that have been allotted on my schedule, such as writing reports, work instructions, proposals, or working on mechanical designs and talking to vendors to make sure my design can be machined and how much it will cost to have the part(s) built. I also may work on coding in-house engineering tools, depending on my schedule. Coding is my second love, I spent 6 years at a client’s site working on real-time code for the beam control/fire control system for the Air Force’s Airborne Laser Testbed. If yoou’re interested, there’s a good writeup about it on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_YAL-1
It’s good to be organized ahead of time. That makes a lot of sense — especially prioritizing so you accomplish the most important tasks in a timely manner.
This has the advantage of containing potentially addictive tasks. In my case this works with simple things like cooking, cleaning etc. Writing I also need uninterrupted time for.
Great point! If you can block out time for tasks you need to be uninterrupted for, it can help you move forward in a smoother manner.