Is multitasking the secret to efficiency and success or a time-sucker masquerading as a good idea?
Before you answer that question, you have to ask if multitasking is possible. Science now says no, that what we think is multitasking is actually switching back and forth between tasks quickly. With that clarified, is switching quickly between tasks the secret to efficiency or a time-sucker masquerading as a good idea?
I say (and science happens to agree) that switching quickly is a bad idea whereas switching periodically is essential. If you were to perform a single task all day, you couldn’t read emails or answer co-workers’ questions and would surely become very bored very fast. Even worse, when made to do a single monotonous task your brain becomes “complacent” and begins to automate it, ultimately lowering the quality of your work.
On the other hand, if you spend your workday ping-ponging around between lots of different tasks, you’ll find that you lack focus and once again, the quality of your products suffers.
As a sort of compromise between extremes, many experts suggest “chunking,” or setting aside a certain amount of time to complete a task and using that time to do only that task. Between chunks you can complete less intense initiatives, communications, and other smaller miscellaneous tasks.
The problem is that even if you’re “chunking,” you still face the difficulties that come with changing tasks and the mental lag-time you need to refocus. Is there a way to reap the benefits of chunking without losing tons of time switching gears? The best way I know is project management software. Here’s why:
1. Everything is ready for you
If you’re switching between projects, it’s important to have the resources you need for each easily available so you don’t waste a ton of time tracking down reports, documents, or requirements in obscure places. Project management software can help by centralizing and organizing resources and communications, which leads to smooth transitions.
For example, you can upload forms and templates right into your PM system to ensure uniform presentation across your deliverables. This makes it easier to switch between projects that use different layouts, fonts, and formatting. Other documents can also be uploaded to help you locate key information about the tasks at hand, such as what the statement of work (SOW) promised to deliver.
2. Find good distractions
Taking a “break” is a great way to keep your brain alert and focused when you’ve been working away at a single task, but if you get carried away you could end up wasting time. Project management software can help you identify and prioritize your tasks so that even if you need a break from one task, you can find another that’s also high-priority. This makes “break-time” effective and productive all at once. (That said, it’s a good idea to give your brain some non-working breaks too. Starbucks, anyone??)
The detail included in project management tasking tools makes them especially valuable. You can see scheduled milestones and deliverable due dates all in one place. Combining these schedules with email alerts and reminders makes it easy for workers to see what they need to do, and easy for management to make changes and redirect employee effort.
3. Identify things that actually need your attention
There are some things that can wait. On the other hand, sometimes there are questions that need to be answered, papers that need to be signed, or other quick tasks that need to be completed before teammates can continue on with their jobs. This can be an issue if you’ve set aside time to do one task but, in doing so, have postponed a task that your team needs completed before it can move forward.
If you stop what you’re doing to complete one of these tasks, the productivity of the team will increase even though you need to take a minute or two to re-focus. Project management software helps you monitor your processes so that you can remain aware of these tasks and get them done in a timely manner to facilitate smooth operations and prevent costly dead-time on projects.
Of course there are other things that need your attention too. Escalating risks, big changes, or unexpected issues all demand immediate attention. The risk management tools that project management software provides alert you to these issues as well. Features generally include a platform for all team members to raise issues or changes, tools to assign the resolution of these risks to individuals, and tracking to ensure that high-priority mitigation tasks are completed fast.
Project management software is a valuable tool that can help you navigate between various responsibilities strategically and with agility.
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.