N / A? How many browser tabs are you currently open? Sure there are at least 10 and a few chats are also still open. some may be of a professional nature, in between fun and other things.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: It is almost impossible to work through individual tasks one after the other without being distracted. Even while I am writing this article, I am watching Netflix and answering chats on Whatsapp. No chance to write down the blog article in one piece.

The myth of multitasking

Let’s look at the job advertisements: The ideal employee should be resilient and flexible. It should therefore be capable of multitasking and, like a computer, be able to do several tasks at the same time. But it is hard to focus on several things and yet it is so difficult for us to concentrate on one thing.

We watch TV while eating and check our e-mails in meetings. Scientists at the University of Stanford already dealt extensively with the topic of multitasking in 2009. Two groups were observed in the experiment. Of course, the group was qualitatively better and faster, which tasks worked off one after the other.

However, we find it difficult to focus. Technology in particular is to blame for this and made everything quick and easy.

That’s why multitasking is bad

Studies show that multitasking releases the happiness hormone dopamine as well as cortisol (stress hormone). On the one hand we are happy that we can achieve so much and want more, but on the other hand we put ourselves under stress and at some point we can no longer really think about things. The cause: We just work things off and deliver poor quality and zero creativity

New technologies and smartphones in particular make our work much faster and leave us full of distractions. In the past, we had significantly fewer tasks, for example. 4-5 large tasks, while methods such as Scrum mean that we now handle over 100 constantly changing small tasks per week.

PS: There are a few isolated examples of people who do tasks well and in parallel. Unfortunately, there is currently no explanation why these people are capable of this.

Tips for fewer context changes in the workplace

In the following, I would like to show you my personal tips that I have collected over the past few years.

Prioritization of tasks

Instead of working on several tasks in parallel, I try to prioritize. I look at what is important and what is not and schedule tasks for myself. There is never a need to do everything at once. I help my employees with clear backlogs in Jira about what is important and what is not. We also speak to the sales department on a regular basis.

Checklist with clear prioritization

Rest periods and blockers for demanding tasks

But what to do if you need a longer time for a task. As a head of department, I have to be available at all times and can hardly bring a task to an end in peace. It simply cannot be avoided because my employees need decisions from me.

But there are tasks such as concepts or new processes that require my full concentration and time. Until recently, I learned how to write my doctoral thesis for a year. It takes some time (1h) until I was inside and then I had to at least. Write on it for 4 hours at a time.

I then inform all my employees and simply switch off the systems and messages. Sometimes it has to go without me and I only have one channel open for really important messages.

My calendar on a day with blockers (orange) for quiet work

Bundling of task complexes

I try to do tasks that belong together or are very similar, as the saying goes, in one go. For me, that’s answering emails and chat messages. The advantage is that I don’t have to think in smaller messages that often and that I can avoid these distractions very well.

My calendar on a day with bundles for emails (purple)

Working with new (agile) methods

Agile methods are made for the digital age. We learned before that timeboxing is a very simple and effective method. But creating boards for complex topics is a simple and good method of simply mapping complex topics.

Kanban board for writing my last book – virtual teams and home office

Image source: Car photo created by diana.grytsku – de.freepik.com

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Image-Source Titlepicture: Fotolia.de 2016 – buyed License

Dr. Dominic Lindner
Author

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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