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3 tips to help you take charge of your workday

Recently, I was on a plane and sat next to a teenager who was simultaneously watching Wonder Woman with subtitles, gaming on his Nintendo Switch, and listening to music. As I reflected on the slim chance he was actually retaining any of the movie plot, I realized work life sometimes isn’t that different. We have endless opportunities to multi-task in our work either by answering emails or pings while on calls, refreshing our favorite social media feed, or attending to children and pets at home.

From a psychologist’s definition, multi-tasking is the act of quickly switching between two or more tasks. Contrary to the word itself, our brains can only focus on one thing at a time, so whenever you switch to a new task your brain is delayed in its ability to dive into that next project. The reality of a limited workday and broad range of tasks and projects we take on as consultants means that, inevitably, we will have to multi-task at some point. However, we can be intentional about how we engage in multi-tasking! Here are three ways you can take back your workday and maximize your efficiency.

1. Make tools work for you

Feeling overwhelmed by the constant notifications for another email or Teams ping? Set yourself up for success by leveraging the right tools. Turn off notifications when you need to focus. Utilize tools like Cortana to block off quiet hours, minimizing distractions when you’re on a call or need to dive into a deliverable.

With many companies still in a remote work environment, the natural breaks in the workday have slowly evaporated. The buffer between meetings to account for walking from one conference room to another is no longer necessary, which, in turn, has made back-to-back meetings much more common. A tip that has helped my team is to schedule meetings for 45 minutes instead of one hour, reinstating a buffer between meetings, and allowing the brain the time it needs to switch between projects.

2. Prioritize and be present

Researchers propose that taking on anything more than two tasks at a time significantly reduces your ability to be effective and productive. Prepare yourself for when multiple demands on your time will inevitably come up and plan out your day to determine priorities ahead of time. You can also work with your manager to determine the most important work to get done for the week.

Remember you’re still human, and short breaks throughout the day are a good idea for your mental and physical health. Going for a walk, taking a few minutes for mindful breathing, or using a stress ball are all common tools to engage your physical body and refocus your mind on the task at hand.

3. Be the boss of your workday

Although many things are out of our control throughout the day, we can take charge of our approach to our work. Our work environment significantly contributes to our ability to focus. It’s important to build out a workspace that minimizes distractions and reduces the number of tasks you feel are needed to address immediately. Taking the step of removing your phone from your desk can make a huge difference in your ability to stay on target and reduce the likelihood of multi-tasking (e.g., answering a text from Mom, scrolling through Instagram, responding back to that email). We all know the struggle! You can also try other focus tips for how you structure your day, like working on your most challenging project when you are feeling most productive.

How and when we multi-task has a significant impact on our work output and mental state. Start utilizing the tools available, prioritize your projects, and set yourself up for success for your workday.

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