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Taming the Multitask Dilemma – 3 Ways to Improve Life and Work

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By Liz Reyer

RISMEDIA, May 17, 2008-(MCT)-Question: Lately people are telling me that I multitask too much. Even my kids are complaining! I don’t know any other way to get everything done, and I’m afraid I’ll miss something important. Any suggestions?

Answer: If you try to do three things at once, you’re really only doing one, and probably not as well as if you focused. Learning to prioritize, delegate and set boundaries can help you be more productive with less stress.

To cut back on multitasking, the change needs to be your idea, not someone else’s. Explore the reasons you want to multitask less, and think about the effects it has on people around you, especially your children. Try to experience their feelings by recalling how you feel when, for example, someone multitasks by checking e-mail while you’re conversing. Then look at how multitasking affects you. How does the ongoing pressure affect your health, sleep and general attitude?

Once motivated to change, consider why you multitask. Perhaps you’re afraid that you’ll miss the breakthrough call of your career or that not getting your voicemail at 7 p.m. will alienate clients. How realistic is that? Some people keep up the pressure because they feel inadequate. Others thrive on feeling needed. Explore your reasons for packing so much into each moment.

Finally, look at how you’d like to be. Maybe you like being busy, but without being frenetic. Maybe you like feeling connected to people without distractions. Close your eyes and picture it, remember when you’ve felt it, and let it drive your vision.

Three steps will help you change your behavior: prioritizing, delegating and setting boundaries.

- If you’re multitasking because you have too much to do, try prioritizing. Develop some categories that make sense for you, or try these: Do by myself now, do by myself later, someone else can do, and not needed. Be honest; many things are done “just because.” Let them go. If your boss gives you too many “No. 1″ priorities, ask for clarification.
- Reduce the strain by delegating. Find people around you who can help. Some tasks that are a burden for you may be growth opportunities for others. Or, they may be part of someone else’s job. Everyone should be contributing, so don’t enable someone to shift work to you.
- Setting boundaries will make a big difference. You may need to limit your accessibility so you can focus. Some tactics? Manage your dependence on your BlackBerry or cell phones (the bane of multitask addicts everywhere). They’re great tools, but don’t let them rule your life. Give yourself work hours, so that you aren’t working at your kids’ events and being with them in body only. Set expectations with your clients and co-workers. They’ll respect you for it, and it may help them let go, too. And e-mail? Check it regularly but not compulsively.

In a society that glorifies multitasking and puts increasing pressure on people, it’s hard to step back to a more focused way of being. However, doing so will give you better professional results and a happier, healthier life.

© 2008, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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