Multitasking: Making it Work for You

Multitasking is more than just a workplace buzzword. It’s become a way of life for many creative professionals. To keep pace with mounting demands and a seemingly endless parade of clients and coworkers requesting assistance, interactive designers often juggle a slew of activities simultaneously. The pull of digital distractions—from tweets and texts to addictive apps—doesn’t help, either.

In a survey by The Creative Group, 57 percent of creative executives said they feel multitasking improves productivity.

But other studies indicate that it may actually damage both the quantity and quality of your output. What’s a creative to do?

While giving tasks your undivided attention is ideal, there are times when you have no choice but to tackle several things at once. Here’s how to multitask in a more structured and meaningful way:

Prioritize. Many people bounce back and forth between various tasks all day. They start on one assignment, stop, move to the next thing, stop again, answer e-mail, check Facebook and then switch to something else entirely. In the end, nothing gets the attention it likely deserves.

Sound familiar? If so, make it easier to move from one activity to another by developing a game plan at the start of each day. Invest 10 minutes in identifying your most important and time-sensitive tasks and then jot down a prioritized to-do list. Build in time for inevitable distractions, but aim to knock out items in order, one by one.

Retrain your brain. In many cases, multitasking can be tamed with self-discipline. When you’re in the middle of a task requiring great concentration, fight the Pavlovian-like urge to check incoming messages. Turn off your e-mail alerts or mobile devices if need be. Likewise, don’t fall into the trap of diving into a new request if it’s not truly urgent. A brain that’s constantly distracted is more prone to mistakes, which will only create more work and headaches for you in the long run.

Use downtime to your advantage. OK, downtime is a relative term. But you probably have a few slightly less busy stretches during the day. Use these times to handle essential but mundane tasks. For example, you might regularly schedule time right after lunch to tidy up your workspace and clean out your e-mail inbox. These types of activities lend themselves to multitasking because you can switch to autopilot without fear of making a critical misstep. You may even find that shutting off your brain to multitask during these moments provides a much-needed mental break.

Don’t multitask in meetings. Few actions are more disruptive than pecking on a laptop or swiping your smartphone screen while a group conversation is taking place. It’s bad etiquette and can harm your relationships with colleagues who feel disrespected by your lack of courtesy and involvement. Equally problematic: Zoning out (even for a minute or two) can lead you to miss important information.

The bottom line: If an assignment requires your full attention, give it. Don’t attempt to multitask when working on important projects, something new, or during meetings or teleconferences. It may sound counterintuitive if you work in a fast-paced, constantly connected digital agency or in-house environment, but slowing down to take on one task at a time is often the most effective time-management move you can make. That creative brain of yours will thank you.

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