For many of us our busy lives full of distractions and competing demands on our attention. When we have many tasks to complete it is tempting to juggle these tasks constantly, chipping away at several of them at once as time and circumstances allow.
Are people who "multitask" in this way actually more productive or more effective? In reality, multitasking reduces our ability to complete the task that we are actually doing at that moment. If we are holding an in-depth conversation we really shouldn't be driving a vehicle or updating an important spreadsheet at the same time. If we focus our attention exclusively on the task at hand we are likely to complete the task in less time and do a better job overall. If you are driving, just drive, and you will probably have a better chance of arriving at your destination safely. If you are holding a conversation, just participate in that conversation to the exclusion of everything else and you are likely to have a more fruitful interaction. If you are updating an important spreadsheet then just do that task – don't risk unnecessary and potentially costly errors.
"Single tasking" can be the key to improving you productivity and the quality of your work. By all means keep track of the status of your many tasks but only try to complete one at a time.
There are potential pitfalls with this approach but with care they can generally be managed effectively.
Some distractions are unavoidable
This might be a call from our boss or a client or an important co-worker. If we're only working on one task when this interruption occurs then it is much easier to pick up where we left off when you get back to work.
Working closely with others
Working collaboratively can be inefficient because our team members probably have different approaches to working which don't necessarily complement our own. In such circumstances we must try to carve out individual and specific tasks that you we focus on exclusively, perhaps with a view to facilitating discussion and agreement later. When each person is unsure of what they need to do or what they are responsibility for, productively of the whole team can suffer.
Delegating tasks to others
Having others working for us can help us be more productive but poorly instructed or inefficient workers can be worse than useless. Set definite goals for the delegated task, make your expectations crystal clear. Ideally, set up a system of instructions or guidance for repetitive tasks so that those working for you have no excuse for not helping you get things done.
Losing track of deadlines
Focussing on one thing may mean that we become less mindful of other tasks that need doing. Instead, set yourself a particular period when you will work on each task. An alternative approach is specifying upfront a 'jumping off point' which is a point in the task when it is logical and easy to put it aside to pick up on something else.