Secrets of Multitasking: Slow Down to Speed Up

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By Ron Knaus

Today’s employees are under more stress than ever before. A recent Harris Interactive poll found that one-third of workers ages 25 to 39 feel burned out by their jobs. Additionally, doctors are seeing more stress-related illnesses than ever before, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, adult ADHD, backache, and migraines. In fact, primary care physicians report that between 70% and 90% of patient office visits are precipitated by underlying emotional stress.

So what is causing all of this turmoil? Over the past 10 years businesses have become lean, mean machines by reducing personnel and increasing the workload on those who remain on the job. An increased workload forces the worker into multitasking, which may be effective for a short period of time, but over the long term, causes excessive stress.

In the business world, multitasking is a must-have skill for any employee, yet most workers feel they are being asked to do too many tasks. Why do we see this disconnect between the workday realities and the workers’ perception? Because people have never learned exactly how to multitask. That’s right, multitasking is a learned skill. By learning how to multitask efficiently, you can dramatically reduce your workday stress, increase your productivity, and enjoy your work once again.

The Keys to Multitasking Success
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is not about “piling on the work” to the point of exhaustion. It’s about training the brain to channel energy in an efficient and effective manner so you can accomplish more in less time. And believe it or not, one of the keys of knowing how to multitask hallmarks of learning to multitask is to actually slow down to accomplish more.

Following are some techniques that will help you mentally slow down so you can finally learn how to multitask and master this essential business skill.

  • Practice how to multitask
    Whether you’re learning how to play the piano, use a computer program, or multitask, practice is essential to mastering the skill. Why? Because practice makes something seem routine, and when something is routine, it’s no longer stressful. Look at all the things you do in a day. Pick a few routine tasks to start with. As you master doing multiple routine things, then move on to slightly more difficult tasks. Gradually work up to the number of tasks you normally do.

    During this process, remember that learning takes time. Very often people jump into a new role or responsibility without gradually gearing up their workload. Then they wonder why they feel stressed and can’t multitask effectively. So if you want to do all the things you do each day in a more efficient manner with less stress, take a step back and teach your body and mind how to work up to the productivity level you desire.
  • Set Priorities with Multitasking Management
    Switching brain channels (focus) repeatedly actually reduces your memory recall. Think of your brain as a computer. If you are working within multiple programs and have numerous windows open on your screen so you can quickly jump from program to program, you may find that your computer has a higher tendency of locking up. That is, when you have fifteen windows open at once on your computer, and you attempt to pull up your word processing document, it’s not uncommon for your computer to run slowly or to totally freeze up, often causing you to lose all the data since your last “save.”

    The same thing happens in your brain. When you’re performing multiple tasks that require your undivided attention, your brain gets overloaded, as it can only process information from one channel at a time. Therefore, do not multitask if the assignment requires your full attention. Once that urgent or detailed task is complete, then you can go back to doing the other tasks you normally do. This step will save you lots of rework, as you’re more prone to make mistakes when your brain is overloaded.
  • Use Tools to improve Multitasking skills
    To avoid taxing your brain, write down items you can refer to quickly. For example, if you have a list of items you need to refer to often (such as pricing or shipping information or keyboard shortcuts) put the list next to your phone or computer for quick access. Not only will others think you are brilliant because of your amazing ability to rattle off information, but you won’t have to waste brain energy on such mundane information.
  • Shift multitasking to single tasking 
     Allow your mind to reboot throughout the day to prevent burn outs and. The human brain uses more energy than any other part of the body. As such, it needs constant replenishment. Rest is one of the key components to increasing personal energy and productivity. So every two to three hours, stop multitasking and allow yourself to do just one thing for fifteen to twenty minutes. At the end of this rest period, you’ll feel refreshed, alert, and ready to tackle more tasks—and you’ll do so with fewer mistakes than if you plowed through your tasks without this re-boot period.
  • Take a brain break
    Most employers offer their full-time staff a lunch break and two fifteen minute breaks throughout the day. Do you take yours? Most people do not, and as such, they’re not giving their mind a true break from the stresses of the day. Use break time to walk around the building, sit outside, or just close your eyes and meditate. Do whatever you like during these fifteen minutes to clear your head and give your brain a rest. If you really can’t afford a fifteen-minute break in your day, then turn off your mind as you walk to the water cooler or restroom. Give your mind some kind of total break from the workday tasks. To function at peak levels on a consistent basis, regular breaks are essential.

Do More with Less Stress
Multitasking is a part of our world. If you want to succeed, you need to learn how to multitask so it doesn’t overwhelm you and cause unnecessary stress. By simply slowing down and working up to the performance level you desire, you can multitask effectively and increase productivity. Simply put, learning how to maintain your highest level of mental functioning is your key to multitasking success.

Learn how to go from chao to control at work by signing up to our webinar on how to be resilient to workplace stress.

About the Author(s)

"Dr. Ron" Knaus is a physician, psychiatrist, and sports medicine physician who works within both the medical profession and corporate world, helping people reach peak performance levels. For more information, contact [email protected] or 727-215-8104.