A Five-Step Approach for Effective Multi-Tasking

Photo courtesy of Leo Chuoi
Working from home has afforded me the ability to spend more time with my children. While I wouldn’t have it any other way, by no means is working from home easier than working outside of the home.  My previous job allowed me a quiet, organized desk with all necessary documents within easy reach, but it also took up 10 hours out of every day. Working from home affords me the luxury of spending more time with my family, but requires my brain to work more efficiently in order to multi-task.

While many people – not just working parents - often wear more than one hat simultaneously, few can do it seamlessly. Effective multi-tasking is considered an oxymoron by some, but with this reasonable five-step approach, it can be done, within limits.

  1. Plan, plan, plan.
    This is the single most important piece of advice when it comes to juggling multiple projects and people at the same time. Split your day into segments dedicated to appropriately grouped responsibilities, and adhere to the plan.
  2. Leave personal items for later.
    When I first started working from home, I often got sidetracked by non-urgent items. Now I schedule an hour at the end of every day for tasks that don’t need immediate attention so that I can dedicate more of my brain power to paying projects.
  3. Learn to “let go.”
    While this may seem like the opposite of following a strict plan, effective multi-taskers delegate some of their responsibilities. In my case, I assign many house duties to my children, with specific instructions to ensure that the jobs are done right. They invoice me for their work, and I hand out paychecks. This allows me to delegate while also teaching the value of hard work.
  4. Work in layers.
    The human brain isn’t naturally wired to actively focus on too many similar tasks at the same time. However, you can complete multiple tasks together, as long as they are relatively simple and use different areas of the brain. Completing auditory and physical tasks simultaneously works well because they aren’t wired on the same brain pathway, and they won’t cause you to burn out.
  5. Perfect the art of focusing.
    Multi-tasking is not for the weak minded and should only be performed when you are well-prepared. You can slowly “train” your brain to juggle, but only if you are working at your best. If you find yourself unable to focus on what you’re doing, you’ve combined too many things, and you’ll need to subtract a task so that your work doesn’t lose quality.

Naturally, certain tasks simply do not allow for multi-tasking and must be completed separately in order to receive your full attention. Regardless of your situation, however, you can learn how to use your time more effectively. It won’t happen overnight, but by focusing on a rock solid plan to bundle your work in layers, your brain will become more efficient, leaving you to enjoy more hours out of every day focused on life.

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    • Linda

      Well written and well thought out…and so very true…thank you

      • Adrienne McGuire

        Thank you Linda! Have you signed up to receive our daily emails yet? You can do that from our main page at dailypath.com, that way each entry will come directly to your inbox. Glad you enjoy the posts!

    • Laurie

      As a former ‘road-warrior’, I am well versed in working in strange and remote locations; however, the most difficult adjustment to working conditions I have had to make is to work out of my house!  People assume that I am home, so they can drop by during working hours expecting me to drop what I am doing.  During other family members’ days off while I am working is also a challenge, so part of that initial planning needs to be setting energetic boundaries.  I wish I would have had that tip about having family members submitting invoices for the work!!  Awesome!

      • Adrienne McGuire

        It is amazing how difficult and distracting working out of your own house can be, isn’t it? I agree with the ‘other family members’ days off part as well! ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19800642 Carolynn Ananian

      Split your day into segments dedicated to appropriately grouped responsibilities, and adhere to the plan.

      I’ve heard of this before, though I heard it called “time blocking”.  I second your suggestion here, it’s GREAT.  So, so effective.  It has so improved my productivity, because I get to focus on one thing at a time instead of my day getting broken apart by something like phone calls, which can easily be scheduled into a 2-hour block.

      • Adrienne McGuire

        I agree, Carolynn, time blocking has been really effective for me as well – so much so that I won’t even answer the door OR the phone (unless the caller is someone I absolutely NEED to talk to) during certain time blocks!

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