What You Don’t Know About Multitasking…

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If you’ve read any kind of productivity advice over the last few years, you’re probably aware that, despite our propensity for it, multitasking limits the amount of work we can get done at any given time. In fact, recent studies have even shown that multitasking:

    • Can decrease productivity by up to 40%.
    • This loss of productivity costs businesses an estimated 450 million dollars annually.
    • Multitasking can temporarily reduce IQ levels by 15 points.

But that doesn’t stop us… In a here-today-gone-tomorrow world where everything should have been done yesterday, we can’t help but answer emails during conference calls, surf the internet while we watch TV, or listen to music while we’re cooking dinner.

The truth is, multitasking makes us feel more productive. A state of constant busyness tricks our minds into believing we’re getting more done than we actually are. But this is exactly why multitasking is so dangerous.

In this article, we’ll explore proven ways to increase productivity by avoiding multitasking as well as the best techniques to handle it when it simply can’t be helped.

Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work

Multitasking is a term that was first used in the 1960’s by the technology industry to describe a new computer function. But years later, we humans have adopted the phrase to describe the act of managing multiple activities at the same time.

What’s interesting, though, is that the human brain is actually incapable of multitasking in the true sense of the word… Yes, we can do two things at the same time; read a book and listen to music for example, but research has shown that our minds can’t concentrate on 2 tasks simultaneously.

Instead, our minds rapidly switch focus from one thing to the other. So when you’re secretly catching up on email during team meetings, you’re technically not multitasking, but rather “task switching” between the screen and the voice of whoever is speaking.

The problem lies in the fact that every time you switch tasks, your brain has to refocus, using more glucose: the primary source of energy in the human body. And the more energy you expend switching from task to task, the slower those shifts become and the more prone to errors you are.

In a nutshell, task switching (what we refer to as multitasking), overexerts our brains, killing productivity and making it extremely hard, if not impossible, to do our best work.

Increasing Productivity

With so much going on every day, staying productive is paramount. But if multitasking isn’t the answer, what is?

Start by monotasking; a newer term that refers to removing all distractions and putting all of one’s focus on a single task for an extended period of time. Basically, it’s the opposite of multitasking and it’s a skill that must be learned to begin producing at peak levels.

When you sit down to begin a project, put away your phone, log out of your email, eliminate whatever threatens to take your attention off of your work. How can you expect to do anything meaningful when your mind is constantly being bombarded by incoming calls and emails, meeting requests and social media updates?

Another key to increasing productivity is allowing your mind to rest. Consider planning out your free time in advance so your mind isn’t tempted to linger on the job. And when you’re not on the clock, allow yourself to indulge in the things that interest you; giving your brain a break and ensuring you’re ready to go the next morning.

Lastly, learn when you are most productive. For many people, this is first thing in the morning when the mind is fresh and distractions can be kept at a minimum. But everyone is different and you need to experiment to find your peak performance time. Once you find it, you need to protect it!

Too Much To Do?

I get it, sometimes there are too many things going on and distractions are unavoidable, metaphorical fires need to be put out, meetings can’t be rescheduled… Fortunately, when the need to multitask is forced upon you, there are a few things you can do to help.

Leading researchers have determined that, in certain scenarios, multitasking isn’t such a bad idea… Namely, when tasks align. This means that if each activity being performed uses a different part of the brain, multitasking can actually be beneficial. Exercising while watching TV is a good example. Are there any daily tasks that use different parts of the brain you can pair together to increase productivity?

Another way to preserve productivity when multitasking is unavoidable is to perform similar tasks at the same time. Consider planning all meetings for the same day, or tackling all your social media efforts for the week on Mondays. Even though your mind will still be switching focus from one aspect of the job to another, at least all your efforts will be in a similar wheelhouse giving you an advantage when multitasking is mandatory.

Finally, attempt to automate as many duties as possible. The best way to “multitask” is to have your computer fire off emails or tweets while you focus on something else entirely! There are many apps and technological solutions to automate different processes. I encourage you to look into a few of them.

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All in all, while multitasking is enticing and seemingly unavoidable, it’s actually hurting your productivity more than just about anything else.

It takes discipline to focus on just one task at a time, clear your mind when you’re out of the office and study your work habits to determine your peak performance time. But I have no doubt that when you commit to doing these things, you will not only get more done, but your work will also be of a higher quality.

And when multitasking is unavoidable, using the above tips will help preserve your levels of productivity and not leave you stressed and frazzled at the end of the day.

9 Effective Ways to Reduce Staff Burnout

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We’ve all felt it before…

The feeling that there’s just not enough hours in the day and we’re drowning in a sea of uncompleted tasks and ever growing to-do lists.

Unfortunately, these feelings are often just a part of life and nearly unavoidable in the workplace. But what happens when common stress becomes something more serious?

Burnout can affect anyone in any job or industry. In fact, some of your employees or coworkers may be experiencing symptoms of it right now…

As a leader at your company, whether you’re the CEO or an entry-level supervisor, it’s imperative that you’re able to recognize the signs of burnout in those who work under you and help remedy the situation before it escalates into a serious problem.

But What Exactly is Burnout?

Defined as:

“Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”

The term was first used by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. Today, according to The American Institute of Stress, over a quarter of the U.S. workforce says they’ve experienced the symptoms.

It’s important to note that while many people believe stress and burnout to be interchangeable terms, they are different…

Stress is the feeling of “too much” – too much to do, too much pressure, etc. But burnout is characterized by feelings of “not enough” or emptiness. Those affected become emotionally exhausted, cynical and feel a loss of purpose and motivation. In extreme cases, they may even begin to feel a loss of hope.

Recognizing The Symptoms

Burnout is often hard to recognize because it happens over time. But according to Psychology Today, there are noticeable symptoms:

  • Chronic Fatigue: This is more than a lack of energy, but a feeling of complete physical and mental exhaustion, sometimes accompanied by feelings of dread.
  • Depression: Symptoms of depression can range from occasional feelings of sadness at the beginning, to severely low self-esteem and feelings of being trapped.
  • Anger: What may start as occasional irritability can quickly escalate into unprovoked rage leading to loud arguments and outbursts
  • Detachment: This is the desire for isolation and can manifest itself in the workplace as tardiness, calling in sick without cause, or completely neglecting duties all together.
  • A Lack of Focus: An inability to focus, a shortened attention span, or frequent forgetfulness are possible symptoms.
  • Physical Conditions: Chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or headaches can be indications as well. If any of your employees are experiencing such symptoms, they should be assessed by their doctor.

9 Steps To Decrease Team Burnout:

Now that we know what burnout looks like, what can we do to prevent it in the workplace?

Now that we know what burnout looks like, what can we do to prevent it in the workplace?

1. Discover The Cause:
First, you need to learn and understand what’s causing burnout in your employee(s)… Are they feeling overworked and underappreciated? Perhaps they don’t feel challenged by their duties or fairly compensated for the effort they put in.

Sometimes the cause is found in areas unrelated to the workplace. For example, tension in the home due to relationships, poor health of family members or continual financial struggles can lead to symptoms that may begin to seep into their job.

Encourage openness with your employees and in your workplace. The people who work for you should feel comfortable telling you what’s causing a dip in their productivity without the fear of rebuke or dismissal. Promote trust by allowing employees to be open about their mental, physical and emotional states.

2. Be Realistic:
You need to have realistic expectations. Even for superstar employees, there’s a limit to how much can be done in a single work day. And asking your employees to consistently put in overtime is not only unfair, but a sure path to severe mental fatigue.

Having realistic expectations is important to the health of your workplace and employees, but that in itself isn’t enough…

You also need to make sure that each employee clearly understand what you expect of them. If you don’t make this abundantly clear, they may think you expect more of them than you do and overwork themselves in order to please you and preserve their job.

3. Rest:
Related to our last point, do NOT require or expect employees to work in their off time. If you’re the founder of your company, you’ve poured so much of yourself into building your business: your time, energy, money… So it may be hard to imagine life outside of the office. But all work and no play can be quite unhealthy.

Encourage your employees to relax and pursue other interests in their off time. Support their individual dreams and goals. And while you’re at it, take some time off yourself! Hard work doesn’t mean constant work.

4. Working Environment:
The atmosphere you create is very important. Do your employees enjoy coming to work? Do they feel appreciated? If they don’t, their mental and emotional states may be at risk.

By creating an environment that fosters fun, creativity and community, you’ll also help develop a company culture of hard work and productivity. Happy employees work harder and get more done.

This should go without saying, but don’t micromanage your employees and NEVER guilt them into anything! They should feel free to accomplish their work without “the boss” hounding them or making them feel guilty for taking breaks.

5. Remember Your Why:
Another way to combat burnout in the workplace is to constantly reiterate to your team why you all do what you do. Remind your team of their passion for your product and customers and that the work they do is important.

Also, tell your team where you see the business in 3, 5, 10 years. Sharing your vision(s) with your employees not only helps them feel ownership of the project, but also gives them purpose.

6. Celebrate:
People get burned out when they feel like they aren’t getting any closer to their goals. By celebrating even the small wins, you and your team will taste success along the way and it will help propel you to the next goal.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to throw a party every time you get a new client or customer. But taking a moment to recognize success, big or small, will help your team feel productive and keep them motivated to achieve even greater things.

7. Education:
Teach your employees how to do their work well and provide them with the tools to succeed. Do they need to be educated on how your company handles specific scenarios? Is there a new software that will help your team secure more clients in less time?

Ensure your employees have the necessary resources so they can best accomplish the work that’s required of them. Repeated failure or mediocre work, especially when the employee feels helpless to correct it, will certainly take a toll on their mental and emotional health.

8. Team Building:
A strong team is essential to your company’s success and employees that enjoy being around each other are much more likely to do their best work and steer clear of burnout.

To help foster friendships between employees, consider a company retreat, signing you and your team up for a softball league, participating in local bike races, trying to escape the room or even just a night out on the town for dinner.

Building deeper relationships helps ensure your employees have more invested in the company than just a paycheck.

9. Be Mindful:
Keep an eye on those who work for you. If you start to see signs of burnout, have an open, honest discussion and work to remedy the situation immediately. It’s a lot less expensive to take care of your current employees than to find new ones.

Also, by educating your employees on the most common symptoms (the ones we talked about earlier) they’ll be able to help diagnose themselves.

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Burnout is increasingly common in the workplace and steps need to be taken to ensure a happy and productive workforce.

A company is only as good as its employees, so treat them with respect and create a positive working environment they can succeed in and enjoy coming to every day.

By being vigilant and aware of common burnout symptoms, you’ll increase employee loyalty and improve your business.