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Multitasking while working from home

by Mark Miller 5 min read


Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Some people say multitasking wastes time and reduces the quality of work. But what are you to do if you have multiple tasks and you need to get them done all around the same time?

We're going to give you some tips for multitasking, but be advised that your best bet is to focus on one task in any given time frame. The American Psychological Association says multitasking can reduce productivity [1]:

Research published by the American Psychological Association shows that switching from one task to another can cost as much as 40% of someone's productive time, especially when the tasks are complex.

The APA describes multitasking and the consequences [2]:

Multitasking can take place when someone tries to perform two tasks simultaneously, switch from one task to another, or perform two or more tasks in rapid succession. To determine the costs of this kind of mental "juggling," psychologists conduct task-switching experiments. By comparing how long it takes for people to get everything done, the psychologists can measure the cost in time for switching tasks.

Forbes describes the cost of mulitasking:

Avoid multitasking: the cost of switching from one task to the other can be up to 40%. A research shows that people spend on average nearly 10 minutes on switches caused by alerts, and spend another 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the type of interruption) before returning to focused activity on the disrupted task. Almost 30 minutes are spent to get back into the flow to accomplish a task.

Thirty minutes! That's more than 6% of an eight-hour day.

A Cirkus.com article states [3]:

You might have heard that multitasking skills are a myth, that no one can do more than one task at the same time. Even though this isn’t entirely true (depending on what you call a task), the point here is being able to switch assignments. And you can achieve it by grouping your tasks and getting them done through separate blocks of time.

If you must multitask

Cirkus.com advises knowing how much you can get done and accept your limits. "Just keep in mind the number of projects or assignments you are truly capable of managing and completing within your working hours,' the Cirkus article says.

There is a handy little way to prioritize tasks in that article. The writer says to distinguish between urgent and non-urgent tasks, and important and unimportant tasks. Prioritize in the following hierarchy:

  1. Important and urgent;
  2. Important but not urgent;
  3. Not important but urgent;
  4. Not important and not urgent.

As we said at the beginning of the article, if you have some things that must get done in a hurry, do those first. Those are the important and urgent matters.

Avoid distractions like television. If you are working from home, you very well may be tempted to turn on the TV and watch. That may greatly reduce your productivity.

Also, turn off your apps. And if you aren't waiting for an important phone call, put your cellphone in another room. Doing all this will allow you to focus on the work you need to get done.

Cirkus advises adopting the Pomodoro Technique:

It suggests that you work in 25-minute blocks, then take a short break after each block, followed by a longer break after every 4 blocks. However, this might not work for you if it forces you to stop at a critical stage.

The idea works because it’s easier to concentrate for 30 minutes than 1 hour. You just need to figure out the best time length for your project.

Group your related tasks to be done during the same time frame. If they are tasks that require research, you can likely save time instead of wasting it.

A psychologist talks about multitasking in this video.

At the end of the week or the beginning of the week, make a plan of what you intend to do. Look at your schedule and to-do list and determine which tasks you can group together.

Remember to take breaks

Cirkus says breaks are important in delineating time blocks. The article states:

As important as the time you spend being productive, are the minutes you save to rest. Taking breaks is a proven way to restart your mind so you can get back to work refreshed. Your body will also thank you for the opportunity to move around, preventing muscular tension and its damaging consequences.

The article recommends taking off 15 minutes every hour. (Sounds like an executive job to me!) Also, do not skip lunch, which can really refresh you and help you through the rest of the day.

If you don't feel like filling up with coffee, tea, or energy drinks during lunch, but you want a caffeine pick-me-up, try Viter Energy Mints.

Viter Energy Mints [4] require no preparation and have 40 mg of caffeine per mint. Forty mg is about one-half of the caffeine in a cup of coffee.

The mints also contain B vitamins, and mint to freshen the breath.

Viter Energy Mints [5] are handy if you are in a place where you cannot get a cup of coffee or energy drink.

Also, some people do not want to fill up on a lot of liquids, which may make them go to the bathroom more often than usual.


Do one task at a time

Multitasking is really sequential tasking. You do a bit of work on one item, and then switch to another. Forbes warned that this can drastically reduce your productivity, but it can also help you meet deadlines on time.

Review your work when it's done

 When you are finished with your work, says FairyGodBoss.com, review it so you can catch any errors [3]:

When all is said and done, and the projects you’ve set out to work on have been completed, it’s imperative that you take the time to pay attention to specific details and review all that you’ve done. This might seem counterproductive, or even a waste of time. But the review process is vital when working on any project or task. This is the step that might end up taking the most time, as you must make sure that the work you did on one task didn’t bleed over into the other. Check what your original assignment was, and make sure the final product ticks off all the boxes. Dot your i's and cross your t's and before long, you’ll have completed a successful multitasking session.

If you find you can't concentrate on more than one project in a given time block, then forego multitasking. It might take some practice to get stuff done in this way, but if you do it right, you just might save some time.


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/lucianapaulise/2020/07/23/3-steps-to-increase-productivity-working-from-home/?sh=11c347671d36

[2] https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask#:~:text=Meyer%20has%20said%20that%20even,percent%20of%20someone's%20productive%20time.

[3] https://fairygodboss.com/articles/multitasking-at-work

[4] https://amzn.to/3jb7Gwg

[5] https://www.goviter.com/collections/viter-energy-mints

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