When you’re starting to work from home, multitasking is NOT your friend. On the contrary - if you have your own business and the privilege of choosing your own working hours, trying to do everything at once is the number one way to get nothing done.
Multitasking makes you lose time: every time you start a new assignment, you need at least a few minutes to get into the right vibe. Opening the right applications and tools, assembling your thoughts; so every time you switch tasks, you lose a bit of time just by the act of switching.
Time spent multitasking is less productive: when you’re trying to handle your social, private and professional life all at the same time, you won’t be able to give each your fullest attention. Checking e-mails while having breakfast with your family, watching your children while taking a business phone call, chatting with a friend when you’re working to make a deadline. Even though you spent breakfast with your family, they didn’t get your full attention; and I’m betting those e-mails didn’t get properly answered to everyone’s satisfaction either.
Multitasking also hinders your concentration, and it also means your feelings towards one aspect of your life can aspect the other.
There are exceptions - of course you can watch your children while knitting, or have a good conversation with your spouse while driving to a business do. People are different as well; some people can take a phone call while they’re cooking, but I know it would at least get something burned in my kitchen!
In this article, we’ll go over a few tricks you can apply in order to be more productive, more mindful of what you’re doing right now… the answer is to quit multitasking.
1. Set boundaries and make a schedule
The first step to quit multitasking, is to identify all different tasks or role - and give each of them a place in your day or week.
You’ll probably identify your business (or, if you’re a passionate entrepreneur like me, you might have more than one business), your family life, your relationship with your spouse and your best friends, your social life, maybe a day job if you work for somebody else as well,… Give each of those the time it deserves. Don’t forget to add in some me-time; take a shower, go for a walk, visit the gym or do something fun.
I work best when I divide my day into blocks. This morning, I didn’t start writing until the kitchen was clean; and I know that if I concentrate on writing right now, as soon as it’s done I’ve got some time to answer my e-mails before lunch.
If part of the “working from home” deal is that you take on (most of) the household, set some time apart for this every day. By doing this, you won’t be tempted to start scrubbing your kitchen during office hours; cleaning will wait until its designated time. Knowing everything has got its own time block, makes it easier to let go.
2. Disconnect from your phone
Leave your phone behind or switch it to silent from time to time.
Dinner with your family might become a phone-free zone, or you could take Sundays off completely. In 99% of the cases, it’s just a matter of letting people know: if people are aware you won’t pick up your phone between 6pm and 8pm unless there’s an emergency - they’ll know they won’t get an answer before 8:15 or so, and that’s ok. Or maybe even the morning after?
Set your boundaries so they’re clear for everybody.
If you still want to receive important phone calls during phone-free time, you can get a virtual receptionist: Google Voice will take your calls and only relay the ones that are important to you. And it’s totally free!
3. Take notes so you can tackle a task later
Always have a (digital or physical) notebook at hand to write down ideas or to-do’s for your business when you’re not actually working - or to remind you of something you’ll need to tell your family (or buy, or do later). I use Wunderlist for this, but you might prefer Trello, Meistertask or any other task manager.
Writing down your thoughts helps to get them out of your head; if you keep thinking of something you need to do for work later, you won’t be able to enjoy family or social time as much.
4. Check your e-mails at preset times
Are you constantly keeping an eye on e-mail notifications, so you can reply to a message as soon as it comes in? You might not notice it, but that’s taking you a lot of time.
Check your e-mails (and other messages, like Slack, WhatsApp or Messenger) at preset times. How quickly do you think you should reply to people’s e-mails? Would it really kill your clients to not get a reply within 3 hours after they sent you something?
I like to go through my e-mails first thing in the morning, with a cup of tea; I’ll delete the ones I don’t need, flag the ones I want to reply to, and send the ones that need some action to Wunderlist (see above).
After this, I’ll reply to urgent e-mails (but only those), and then get to work on whatever task I’ve planned to work on that day.
After my “office block”, I’ll get back to my e-mails; go through new e-mails again (and repeat the above process), then reply to all the less urgent ones as well. This usually takes place in the late morning.
After that, I won’t check my e-mails again until late afternoon - same ritual as in the morning. Reply to the really urgent ones, flag the less urgent ones to reply to tomorrow around 11, and send others off to Wunderlist. Works great for me. Might for you as well?
Of course, if your job requires you to check e-mails more regularly, by all means plan e-mail checks more often.
Try not to check (work) e-mails late at night. It never helps you sleep better… on the contrary, work assignments might start haunting your dreams.
5. Turn off notifications
The pop-ups you’re getting on your phone and desktop might seem useful - once you start checking your e-mails with regular intervals though, you don’t need those notifications anymore. All they do is take your attention from whatever you’re doing at that time - break your concentration.
Turn off notifications for new e-mails on your phone - in some cases, you could even delete your e-mail app from your smartphone altogether.
If you tell your clients that’s how you work from the beginning, this should be no problem; tell them this allows you to work on assignments for them with your fullest concentration.
6. Separate your work space from your private space
Creating a separate workspace helps get into the right mindset for working. No reminders that housework needs doing, no other distractions.
If you can’t have a separate office space, you could try adding a special ritual for transition between working and personal blocks.
One entrepreneur I know walks out her front door in the morning, carrying her phone and notebook, and closing the door behind her. She’ll then walk around the house and enter through the back door, going directly to her desk, where hot coffee is waiting for her (she put it there just because she walked out the front door). I found this habit weird at first, but I do get it; this little ritual marks the transition from private time to office time… and as soon as work is done, she’ll go back out the back door, and in the front door. I can totally picture her shouting “honey, I’m home!” to her family who’s been there all along.
7. Manage other people’s expectations
One very important aspect of multitasking is to make clear plans or a schedule, and to manage other people’s expectations.
Communicate your “office hours” to your friends and family members so they know that although you might be home all day, you’re not to be disturbed during certain times (unless it’s really urgent, of course).
Communicate your “time off” to clients so they know you won’t pick up the phone unless they scheduled a call, or that you don’t answer work e-mails on Sundays.
These are just a few of the many things you can do to get things done more efficiently. In most cases, it comes down to numbers 1 and 7: set your own boundaries, and manage other people’s expectations.
Do you do a lot of multitasking? Is it working for you, or do you need to keep things separated in order to be more productive?