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A New Approach to Multitasking in the Workplace

It seems like “must be able to multitask” is an essential characteristic to any and all job applicants these days.


I believe it’s because changes are happening in careers and organizations today faster than ever in history. Technology and global business are allowing AND demanding that more work be done in less time.

But many organizations, journalists and researchers, including Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson of the New York Times, suggest that multitasking is actually hurting efficiencies at work, not helping them. Many believe that we can only truly be effective at focusing on one task at a time. But if that’s the truth, how do we answer to managers who want us to do three things at once?

My recommendation is to track the multiple tasks simultaneously instead of doing them simultaneously. This way you can “multitask” in the eyes of your manager, but are still efficient in how you carry out your responsibilities.

So how do you do that?

  1. Write it down:
    There are many ways to tangibly track your progress, but I recommend maintaining a simple spreadsheet with a color code. While this might sound basic, it’s proven for me and for my Career Coaching clients to be an effective method of staying on top of multiple responsibilities. For each task or duty you list, highlight them. White highlight (or “no color”) marks the task as an “ongoing duty” that doesn’t yet have an ending. A green highlight means it’s a new duty that is yet to be started. Yellow means you have started the task, but still need to finish the project. Red highlight indicates you have finished the task within the past week or month.
  2. Schedule it:
    Having a scheduled time to update your progress is a must. After all, what good is an elaborate list if you don’t routinely update it?! For some, Friday works best because they’re able to look back at the prior week with fresh eyes. Others prefer to update their list daily so that they never let it slip. One tip is to work with another coworker and hold each other accountable for keeping up with your tasks on the same day.
  3. Prioritize it:
    Color-coding is the first step. But you should also place numbers by each task you listed in order to prioritize them. A good friend of mine, Mary Kutheis of RealContentment.com, is a productivity coach and believes in identifying your top three tasks daily. This way, whenever a new task or project comes your way, you can just ask yourself if this new responsibility outweighs your previous commitments or not.

It all comes down to knowing yourself and how well you organize exactly what it is you need to “multitask.”

If you’re trying to do it all at once, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re keeping track of everything you need to do at once, but doing each separately on its own timeline, you’re headed in the right direction.