3 Ways I Stopped Myself From Multitasking (Without Completely Changing My Routine)

You’ve heard it before: Multitasking is bad for your productivity. That frantic switching of gears is destroying your focus and ultimately only slowing you down.

Trust me, I’ve heard this tried and true advice just as much as you have. However, like many people, I quickly wrote it off with a nonchalant, “Nah, I don’t think it’s that bad! Hey, I still feel like I’m getting a lot done.”

But, considering it’s part of my job to pay close attention to my productivity (so I can write all about it later), I decided to try something new: I’d challenge my natural tendency to hop all over my to-do list and instead attempt to stop myself from multitasking.

I’ll admit it—it was challenging. I’ve grown so used to typing out an email only to abandon that halfway through to address another urgent thought that just popped into my mind. So, I wasn’t totally convinced that I’d be able to force myself to fully complete tasks before moving on to something else.

But, you know what? I pulled it off (and, yes, it really did make me more productive—not to mention less frazzled).

Even better? I identified a few helpful strategies along the way that you too can use to stop multitasking. Close those eight browser tabs you inevitably have open (guilty as charged, right?) and prepare to change the way you work.

Related: Don’t Multitask: Your Brain Will Thank You

1. Number Your To-Do List

One of the first things I do each and every morning is sit down and write out everything that I want to get accomplished that day.

When I’m done jotting everything down? I’m left with a big, long, jumbled mess of tasks.

Previously, I’d roll up my sleeves and jump right in. I’d choose a random (usually easy!) task to get started with and then hop all around from there—sprinkling some bigger projects in that I would make progress on, but not actually finish.

I decided that if I wanted to stop multitasking, I’d need a clearer plan in place. So, I did something super simple: I numbered my to-do list.

Once I had everything written down, I’d go through and assign a number to each task to dictate the order that I wanted to do them in. When—and only when—I was finished with task number one, I’d move on to task number two, and so on and so forth.

I know, the concept is almost stupid easy. But, it’s a small change that can have a big impact, and there’s nothing better than that.

Related: How to Break the Multitasking Habit That Science Says Is Damaging Your Brain

2. Work in Intervals

This advice isn’t new, so I won’t even try to pretend that it’s a groundbreaking idea that I just came up with myself. However, if you haven’t previously utilized a time management method yourself, allow me to convince you to start.

I’ve used the Pomodoro Technique off and on for about a year. I’ve noticed that it definitely helps to increase my productivity by reminding me to use my work time for, you know, working. But, the effect on my multitasking wasn’t anything I had ever really considered.

When experimenting with my own efficiency and focus, I decided to give the Pomodoro Technique another try to see how it would impact my natural tendency to jump from fire to fire. I was pleasantly surprised!

The big benefit of a time management method like this is that it instills a sense of urgency—you only have a set block of time for work before you take a short break.

This approach helps you stay focused, of course. But, I found that it also helped me to stay zoned in on one thing at a time. I was subconsciously challenging myself to see how far I could get on that specific project or task before my time was up—meaning I didn’t feel as tempted to switch between to-dos.

Related: 3 Simple Productivity Hacks You Can Implement Today

3. Limit Your Websites

Like so many people, I’m a natural multitasker. But, here’s the part that’s not so easy to admit: A lot of my multitasking isn’t really productive or work-related.

I’ll get halfway through some research for an article, and then take a quick scroll through my Facebook newsfeed for the 80th time that day. Or, I’ll clean out a few emails only to take a break to do a little online shopping.

I know that this sort of routine is nothing but a waste of time. So, I made the decision to cut myself off and utilize a browser blocker. I used the Chrome extension, StayFocusd, but there are plenty of other options out there that do the same thing.

I entered my most common time-wasting websites onto my blocked sites list. Then, I’d set them to be blocked during a predetermined amount of my work time—meaning I couldn’t access them while I was supposed to be working.

Again, it’s one of those things that was super easy to do. But it made a huge difference. Even seeing the reminder when I clicked over to that website out of habit inspired enough guilt to keep me focused on the task currently in front of me.

The siren song of multitasking can ring loud and clear. However, it can also quickly sink your productivity. Use these three actionable strategies and, like me, you’ll begin to stifle your bad tendencies!

This article was originally published on Inc. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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