Working remotely can have many benefits, but don't consider multitasking one of them. While working from home can eliminate many office distractions, the lure of being productive in more areas of your life can cause far worse distraction.
Did you know trying to do multiple things at once - i.e. multitasking - is a productivity trap in disguise? For years, it has been sold as a great skill and badge of honor that helps workers handle several tasks or projects. However, as we’ve detailed in The Painful Truth of Why You Can’t Focus, the process creates a greater demand for cognitive resources, putting us out of balance and draining our brain’s ability to be productive.
Studies have shown that the unwillingness or inability to focus on one task at a time inevitably leads to lower productivity, actually lowers IQ and could negatively impact your brain. On some level, most of us know that dividing our focus through multitasking makes us more susceptible to errors, confusion, and unhelpful procrastination, leading to wasted time, lower satisfaction and even burnout.
Unfortunately, whether we’re working remotely or in a hybrid work model, our do-it-all mentality causes us to often get sucked into multitasking. There are several reasons for this, including:
Of course, even when you accept the reality that multitasking is actually holding you back, it’s not easy to break.
4 Practical Ways to Improve Focus and Avoid Multitasking When Working Remotely
Working from home makes us susceptible to going deeper down the multitasking rabbit hole due to increased autonomy, asynchronous communication models, home life responsibilities and access to multiple sources of distraction (smartphone apps, family members, television). As a result, we can quickly deplete our focus energy resources and feel exhausted before getting anything done.
Thus, here are four practical ways to minimize multitasking when working remotely.
1. Note Down Your Distractions
Most people start with a single task. However, at some point, they remember something or come across another task that "needs" to be done. They put aside what they were doing initially, disrupting their thought process, workflow, and completion timeline.
To avoid multitasking here, grab a pen, piece of paper, or notebook to write down what you "need" to do. Alternatively, you can use Evernote, Google Docs, or other note-taking tools if you prefer the digital route. This way, you don’t have to worry about forgetting. Moreover, many studies confirm that delaying tasks is a smart way to boost productivity if you know how to procrastinate positively.
2. Make a Work Plan and Set Proper Deadlines
Another reason many people multitask is that they don’t create a daily or weekly work plan. I know this sounds boring and takes time itself, but it will absolutely pay you back. Failing to plan will slow down your productivity and keep you further from your goals. Thus, creating a list of tasks is necessary to help keep a sense of direction and time. Moreover, you can set priorities, times, and start or due dates for completion thereby creating a framework for your remote tasks and activities.
However, when setting time, watch out for Parkinson’s Law. It simply states that work expands according to the time allowed for completion. In other words, if you give a specific task 3 hours to complete, you’re most likely to take 3 or more hours, even if you could have completed it in two hours.
Therefore, you should carefully plan your deadlines in a way that doesn’t prompt you to fill your time with trivial matters. If you feel the timeline is unrealistic, you can use procrastination positively again to boost your focus and work faster.
3. Pre-Set Your Remote Office and Environment
One of the best ways to reap remote work benefits is by setting up a dedicated office space in your bedroom, garage, shed, living room, or any other space where you can work with minimum distractions. With this approach, you can also separate your work and personal life even though you’re managing both aspects from the same place, more or less.
However, another way people multitask is by tackling issues related to their workspace and environment while carrying out their work-related tasks. This could include cleaning, gathering, or setting up the necessary equipment, or even opting for an alternative workplace which leads to more wasted time.
Therefore, I recommend tackling every aspect of setting up your remote workplace or environment before getting started with your to-do list. This way, you can avoid tampering with your concentration and hopefully take care of these menial tasks as a warm-up to the day or the night before when your focus energy is already lower.
4. Figure Out What Pumps You Up
Sometimes, we multitask because we fail to make real progress on a particular task. Whether it’s indulging in an alternative task or running a quick errand since you’ve anticipated working late, these activities can often lead to unnecessary distractions that make you spend even more time on completing the task you put aside.
While there’s nothing wrong with completing simple tasks faster and conserving energy, you need to stop these “easy wins'' if they pull you away from work you were already doing. Of course, taking short breaks is essential to maintaining focus, but not to take on other tasks.
A great way to ensure you stay focused on the task at hand is by understanding the skills that energize you so you can apply them to completing boring or complex tasks. This includes creativity, organization, strategizing, and communication, to name a few.
Moreover, you can also employ different tools to help you better understand or carry out a task quickly and more efficiently. For instance, you can use Google Docs to enable seamless internal and external collaboration and streamline operations.
Furthermore, you could keep a mental health journal to keep track of your energy levels so you can understand which tasks or activities give you energy boosts. With this information, you can restructure your to-do list and avoid multitasking.
So, there you have it – 4 practical ways to prioritize life in a remote work environment and minimize multitasking. With these tips, you’ll notice quick improvements in your productivity and work-life balance that will get even better with practice.
Of course, you can use several other ways to deepen your focus and curb distractions when working remotely or anywhere. I believe strongly that a key to your productivity is understanding and adapting to how your brain and body work. Therefore, like this post, we’ll be sharing more posts related to each strategy from 6 Powerful Strategies to Strengthen Your Focus, which is part of our series on focus and attention. So, keep visiting the TaskClone blog for more exciting reads on focus and productivity in remote and hybrid environments.