Multi-tasking? It’s becoming pervasive in our culture and in the work place. Our jobs seem to require handling multiple tasks at one time and our bosses and organizations often even encourage it.

In fact, who has tried one of these tactics? Are any of these familiar to you?

· In a large meeting, you place your blackberry or other device carefully under the table while you attempt to type and listen at the same time. Occasionally you direct your attention to the presenter or other employee in a very pensive, contemplative manner. While you know you’re really thinking about what to type next, you come across as an engaged and thought-provoked employee. You are a brilliant and serious-thinking and you got two things done at the same time!

· While on a conference call, you mute the phone and then focus on your email. Every few minutes you un-mute the phone and make a comment so you appear to be involved in the meeting. Statements that work well are “Yes, I heard what you’re saying. That’s where my head is at as well” or “I couldn’t’ agree with you more, Bob, excellent points”. You come across as cooperative, agreeable and you got many things done at the same time!

· If you work for a company where it’s acceptable and encouraged to work on your laptop in all meetings, you’re home free. This is a multi-tasking free-for-all! You can shop for a new book on Amazon, respond to an e-vite for a party over the weekend and read and respond to all personal and work related email. Congratulations – you’ve done many things at the same time!

My goal isn’t to mock you. I’ve done them all too! But the question to ask ourselves is – at what expense? Studies suggest that multi-tasking, in fact, limits productivity.

· “Managing two mental tasks at the same time significantly reduces the brain-power available to concentration on either one, ultimately damaging the quality of your final product.” -NeuroImage, a science journal

· “It takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you’re working on when you switch back and forth among tasks.” – Journal of Experiemental Psychology

· “Not being able to concentrate for, say, tens of minutes at a time, may mean it’s costing a company as much as 20 to 40 percent in terms of potential efficiency lost, or the “time cost” of switching”. – American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology.

So how much time are we really saving? What would our days be like if we tried to concentrate on only one task at a time?

You are now challenged to find out!

Below are some tips that can help! Try one of these each week for the next 6 weeks. Then let me know how it goes – and not by emailing when you’re in an important meeting with your boss.

6 Tips to Creating More Focused Work Time

  • Consider email a task or project. Set aside specific blocks of time each day solely for email.
  • Turn off email and all phones during periods when you require high concentration on other tasks.
  • Go email free for the first hour in the morning. Don’t even turn it on!
  • “Touch” each piece of paper, email or item only once – thenmake a decision at that moment about what action to take. (Respond? File? Toss? Delete?)
  • Focus on only one project at a time. Focus on completion and enjoy it! (There’s a direct correlation between job satisfaction and achievement; thus, focusing on completion could increase happiness at work).
  • Get yourself off the crackberry (or laptop, PDA etc.) in meetings.

Have fun and good luck!