How to Multitask

Instructor: Carrie Soucy
The ability to multitask is necessary today for everyone from students to CEOs. If you're not quite sure how to master multitasking, read on to discover the strategies of those who use this skill effectively, and helpful tips to get you on your way to mastering it.

Multitasking 101

The first step in learning how to multitask is to understand that, contrary to popular belief, multitasking does not necessarily mean doing many things at once. Instead, it is the ability to switch between different tasks seamlessly and manage your priorities. While multitasking pros may come across as people who can do a dozen things on the fly, in reality, they are people with exceptional time management and organizational skills. Below, we outline the strategies you'll need to become one of those pros. If you are not quite sure what multitasking is, or why it is so beneficial, you may want to also check out this short lesson on the definition, benefits and examples of multitasking.

Your To-Do List is Your Best Friend

If you don't have a to-do list, make one. Whether this is in the form of a checklist or a calendar, know exactly the things you need to accomplish and record them. More importantly, once you create that list, keep revisiting it throughout your days and update it frequently. You may want to divide this list into categories, such as 'personal', 'study' and 'work' so you don't lose sight of all your responsibilities.

Prioritize and Group Tasks

Your to-do list may be long but don't be overwhelmed! Next, prioritize the most important needs within each category and, when possible, try to group related items. For example, say you are studying for the SAT math section but also need to complete a math homework assignment. You may also have science, English and other subject-related tasks, but try to work on the two math items within the same general time frame to keep your brain focused on math, rather than making it switch back and forth between various subjects.

Know When to Focus

In listing your tasks and making your to-do list, it is critical to recognize and note what items require full attention. When you are preparing for an important exam or presentation, for example, it is not the time to try to juggle several things. Because people are most productive when they do one thing at a time, those who are masterful at multitasking understand when multitasking is not a good option.

De-clutter and Make Use of Downtime

Whether it's an inbox overflowing with old emails, a desktop cluttered with random downloads, or a desk piled high with paperwork, clutter will derail your attempts to multitask. If you get distracted every time you open your laptop or sit down at your desk, make a list of the simple organizational things you need to accomplish and add them to your to-do list as non-priority items. When you have downtime - like when you're waiting for a ride or phone call - you can use those spare moments to multitask and cross these items off your list. For additional time-management tips, review this lesson on Time Management: Doing More in Less Time.

Don't Overload

Like a great computer, the human brain has an amazing capacity. But, like any computer, if you ask it to do too much at once, it will begin to falter. The reason why you have to keep in check the number of programs you have running on your laptop and give it a restart is the same reason why you have to give yourself time away from your tasks and to-do lists. Those who multitask effectively recommend:

  • Exercise. Just a short walk, run or workout can improve focus and creativity.
  • Unplugging from your to-do list (along with your phone, texts, social profiles, and email) for lunch or a social gathering.
  • Relaxing. If you are one of the many people who have a hard time figuring out how to de-stress, check out the tips in this Relaxation Techniques lesson.
  • Taking time to do things you enjoy. Whether it is sailing or gaming, let yourself unwind by doing your favorite things. (Bonus: if one of those things happens to be video games, you'll be happy to know that research shows that gaming, in limited amounts, improves the skills required to multitask!)

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