Stop Inadvertent Multitasking

We’ve all done it.  We may not even really been aware that we’re doing it.  Or we might be aware, yet keep doing it, unsure of how to stop.

Are you wondering what I’m referring to?

We have a box, drawer, or some container filled with random stuff and we decide it’s time to deal with it.  We reach in and pull something out – sometimes we even shuffle the stuff around first, reaching for something “easy.” We look at it.

At this point, one of two things often happen after we look at that chosen item –
1. We put that very thing we pulled out – back into the container or next to us with no clear intention for it or
2. We hold that item in one hand while we use the other hand to shuffle items in that container, looking for something else to deal with

This can lead to putting the item down just to get it out of our hands, yet not where it needs to go and easy to forget where it ended up.

This is a hard habit to break; it’s frequently unconscious so we’re not even aware when we’re doing it.  Which just takes me back to the idea of trying to “be in the moment” while you’re working.  We can all work to catch ourselves when we’re doing it and stop.  Then we make efforts to avoid continuing those behaviors.

Shuffling items just makes more work for you.  You will have to try to deal with the items over and over again.  It will make it feel that much more tedious, and it is already probably a tedious task!  Then the idea of multi-tasking – it takes time for our brain to switch from processing one thing to another and one study says we lose 20-40% of our productivity when we do.

Ideally you want to just grab the first item, regardless of what it is.  If you grab something that is supposed to be easy, make sure you then follow the steps too.  Look at it and decide what you want to do with it.  Unfortunately some things are challenging and you might be unsure what you want to do with it.  Putting it back in the container does not actually solve the dilemma; it just reminds you that you feel stuck about what to do with that item.

This is a great place to use the O.H.I.O. principle I’ve talked about before.  Handle the item only once – by making a decision about the item: loose category or place it belongs.  Therefore you aim to make a decision about each item you handle and deal with it, even if it means putting it into another pile!

One way to handle these “loose” items is to have multiple containers to sort into, and then when you are finished with that area you can see what needs a specific home.  Yet, it requires making decisions – both in the moment of picking it up and categorizing it and then later figuring out where it needs to live.

As usual, I think there are times for “pending” items.  For instance with papers, many people believe that there needs to be a minimum of 3-5 papers before it’s worth making a designated file for an item.  You cannot always know whether you have enough of a thing to make a special place for them until you can see everything you are dealing with.

It’s not easy to stop these unconscious habits, yet it serves us well if we can – whether we stop it entirely or just improve how frequently we slip into it.  It’d make your life so much simpler and the more you can practice this, the easier it becomes each time you need to handle a similar task.

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