First, efficiency. How does a drop of as much as 40% in productivity strike you?
Going back to the hemispheres of the pre-frontal cortex, you know that each side is capable of holding two tasks in place at once. Only one task can get the most attention at any given time. Now, your brain can move back and forth between the tasks pretty quickly – it really only takes a fraction of a second to change gears – but, when you switch major ideas, it typically takes your brain as much as twenty-five minutes to reorient itself to the new task. Because of the resulting lag in efficiency, research indicates that as much as 40% of your day may be lost.
That’s a big deal.
Now what’s all this about task switching making you stupid?
Research also shows that, when you task switch, your IQ drops by as many as fifteen points. This drop lowers your problem solving capacities to those of the average eight year old. Do you really think that it’s a good idea to have your eight year old son sending that important email?
So there must be a better way, right?
Of course there is. Here are a couple of really simple behavioral changes that you can implement right away to improve your productivity.
Try working in times during the day to exercise, even if that means squeezing a few minutes out of the day for a short walk. Just a little bit of movement, fifteen to twenty minutes, provides your brain with a jolt of energy that will allow you to rekindle your focus.
Control the amount of noise around you. If noise distracts you, try to create a quiet space. Some of us, however, are bothered by the silence. If you fall into this category, try out a little background music. Just make sure that whatever you’re listening to doesn’t have any lyrics, because your brain will try to join in the singing…
And here is a list of strategies that will help you use your time more effectively so that you can focus on one important task at a time.
Use the 80/20 rule. The majority of your task efficacy – as much as 80% – happens in only 20% of your work day. Identify which of your daily tasks yield the most effective results and schedule them early. Then tackle them one task at a time. Prioritizing tasks and working on the most important ones first will help relieve the anxiety that many of us feel when we get deeper into the day and see unfinished business still looming ahead of us. This can give you the sense of accomplishment that checking items off a list can bring and help you feel more in control of your work day.
Batch. Dedicate specific times of the work day for certain tasks. For tasks like tracking time, making phone calls, texting, checking voicemail or answering email, set aside specific times in your day and stick to it. If you set aside discreet time for these tasks, you take them off of the table for other parts of the day. This frees you up to focus on other projects.
Block out segments of the day. If you are trying to cut out the habit of task switching, you need to put something else in place. This ought to include blocking out discreet portions of the day in which you are working on only one task at a time. For many of us, this one will be hard to put in place. It might be best to take a baby steps approach here; try initially setting aside an hour per task, and building from there.
Of course, we need to acknowledge that we live in the Real World. And the realities of the Real World are a little more complicated than batching and blocking out time. In the Real World, the need for task switching is imposed and reinforced by our clients and co-workers – it just isn’t practical to imagine that it could be eliminated entirely. So, with that in mind, it’s important to recognize that the impact of task switching might be larger than you think – and make changes whenever possible.
And by using BigTime to track your productivity, you can make this happen more easily.
BigTime helps you track time easily so that the details affecting billing won’t be lost as task switching occurs. Reducing the amount of time devoted to billing means that the process is less likely to be interrupted. BigTime’s reporting features can help CPAs more easily see the big picture – some clients and services may impose more task switching than others – having data that shows who the main offenders are lets you explore whether or not it is worth keeping these customers on.
So, where do we go from here?
Start by recognizing that constantly task switching just doesn’t work. Once you’ve done that, let BigTime help you carefully map the realities of how you spend your time – and be willing to take a good, hard look at the areas of your day where you are the least effective. Then, resolve to change.
Because, in a competitive world, you can’t afford not to be your best.