Even though I am a project manager, I am not a natural multitasker. This may be an alarming way to start a blog on how to successfully multitask, but let me assure you; when multitasking is a necessity in your job, you learn how to do it well. Over the years, I mastered the art of juggling many tasks at once and could call myself a professional multitasker all thanks to a few tricks.
Don’t Underestimate Pen and Paper
I love to keep a physical list with me at all times. If I get called to an emergency meeting or stop by a coworker's desk, I always carry my notepad and pen. As a project manager, people often stop me in the hall to ask questions or to ask me to create a task in our project management system. Without a list on paper, I forget the entire conversation before I get back to my desk.
More Effective Than Typing
Studies show that writing notes by hand is more effective than typing them. When you write notes by hand, you will have better recall of the material. I often find that once I write something down, I almost never need to reference it again. It stays stuck in my brain.
Most people know dopamine as the “happy” hormone. Dopamine trains your brain to stay motivated and open to learning throughout your entire workday. Writing a physical to-do list (and crossing off tasks as you go) makes your brain release dopamine. It’s an easy trick to make an eight-hour shift feel like four.
It’s so easy when working on multiple tasks to get sidetracked and forget where you left off. I'm constantly getting pulled in a million different directions and working on multiple accounts, so I depend on my priority items to determine how I manage my time.
When I write my to-do lists, I put a big star next to any item that must be done before the end of the day. My coworkers do things differently. Some write their list in order, others circle tasks, one even makes sticky notes of each task and arranges them throughout the day. The method is not important—what is important is finding a way to prioritize your tasks in a way that makes the most sense to you.
I always check back on my list from time to time and make sure that everything gets accomplished.
Don't get stuck on one task
Much like writer's block, every once in a while you’ll hit a wall. Sometimes, the wall is an external bottleneck, like needing a signed SOW. Other times, the wall is just inside your head. Whatever the reason, do not hesitate to drop the task and work on some others. Even priority tasks can afford a five-minute walk around the parking lot to clear your head (or a few trips up and down the stairwell.)
Keep moving and working on other tasks. Keep crossing items off your to-do list and get some free dopamine. Eventually, you’ll be able to come back to the problem with a new worldview.
Group Tasks Together
Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing when he introduced the assembly line to the world. Humans are naturally good at doing the same task over and over. Our brain can turn to auto-pilot, and the job gets done faster.
You can apply this same logic to your tasks. If you are supposed to create five social posts today for five different clients, create them all back-to-back. Not only will your brain already be “in the zone” but your computer will too. I’ve found that just having the application or website I need already up and running saves me a good amount of time each day.
The greatest of all multitaskers is still only human. I have learned that reminders are a huge must—I just can’t remember absolutely everything I need to for days, weeks or even months at a time.
I have reminders on almost all of my devices, my phone, my laptop, and my calendar. I even set alarms throughout the day reminding me to stop whatever I am working on and finish a task that may be time-sensitive. This way, if I get pulled into another direction at work and my alarm or a reminder goes off on a device, I know I need to make that task a priority.
With a brain that almost always looks like a computer screen with way too many tabs open, these easy tricks help to keep me sane.
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