Between one-off projects, ongoing tasks, and long-term plans, we all often find ourselves working on several things at once. It’s hard enough to ensure that you don’t double-book your calendar, let alone find a way to keep moving forward with everything at once. However, with the right work strategies, you can harness the power of multitasking to be more productive and creative.
Know When to Switch Gears
One of the greatest benefits of having many pots on the stove is the opportunity for cross-pollination. No matter how many times you’re advised to come up with “outside the box” approaches, by definition a creative solution to a problem won’t always show up precisely when you want it to, no matter how nicely you ask.
Instead of waiting around for inspiration to strike, it can be helpful to switch gears to a different project entirely. For one thing, it keeps your planned work-time productive, and better yet, it creates an opportunity for one project to inform another. You never know what you might stumble across while working on something else, whether that’s going through research, breaking down a project into actionable items, or even stumbling across a word in the dictionary. The key is to be honest with yourself about when you’re stuck, and change things up before you get too bogged down.
Nail the Multitasking Transitions
Speaking of changing things up, it’s often hard to go from zero to sixty at the drop of the hat. Every time you pick up a new project, you lose time to getting yourself up to speed with where you left off. While it might seem insignificant in the moment, these lost minutes can add up over time and make a real dent in your productivity.
Ever have trouble trying to find something you’ve misplaced? My mom would always tell me to retrace my steps to figure out the last place I had the thing in question, and sure enough, whenever I lose something I just need to go through the last through hours in enough detail to zero in its location. The reason this works is because our memory is context dependent. We’re more easily able to recall something if we put ourselves in similar conditions to when we first learned or go the idea for it. Standing at the sink, it’s much easier to understand why we put we glasses on that weird out-of-the-way windowsill when we went to wash our face.
Knowing this gives us a lot of options to more effectively nail the multitasking transitions in our workflow. Your physical set-up is a good start. Working on your sofa is a world apart from working at your desk, and both have a different feeling from working at your kitchen table. Separating your projects by different locations, or even making tiny changes to the same workspace like turning switching playlists or lighting a candle, can drop you instantly into the right frame of mind to hit the ground running.
Make It a Habit
Along the same lines as cross-pollination, another major advantage to multitasking and working on several projects at once is the potential to make progress on the longer term stuff, even when the bulk of your focus is consumed by more immediate priorities. The trick is develop little habits that can help you make incremental gains that slowly add up.
My personal ritual is to spend a little bit of time every morning thinking about each project that I’m working on, whether it’s due later that day or in the earliest stages of development. Usually I open a document and just start writing, getting out as many thoughts as I can. Ideally I give myself five to ten minutes for each project, but sometimes it can be two minutes or less– it depends on how many projects I’m working on and how much time I have. Devoting even a little bit of time to each project, even if it’s not a priority that week, can pay big dividends over the long haul.
Multitasking doesn’t have to be a constant scramble, at least not all of the time. By taking advantage of always having something to do, finding ways to help switch between projects more effectively, and developing strategies to let things percolate, we can make it work for us and be the multitasking hero we all dreamed we could be.