More Effective Multitasking Strategies

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When you are faced with interruptions and distractions, you may find yourself subjected to unplanned multitasking. A good place to start is to understand more about your relationship with distractions so you can be more proactive and implement better organizational and attention management skills.

It seems as if there are articles about the concerns with multitasking in the news every week yet people seems to continue to brag about how often they do it.  There is definitely an increased interest in these multitasking programs particularly from those trying to manage the challenges it presents in the workplace. Once the awareness increases, they are looking for ways to better manage their daily routines with its interruptions and distractions.

Some Things to Consider

1. Where are your distractions coming from? Identifying that can be the first step in managing your multitasking. In a recent interview a woman says her whole life is multitasking. It happens at home, at work, and in your recreational choices. If you are lacking in adequate sleep, skipping meals, not eating balanced meals or not drinking adequate water, multitasking is less effective and most likely going to take its toll on your performance and your interactions with others.

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine talked about the impact of distractions on driving. One of findings was that novice drivers who are distracted are more likely to have an accident when focused on a secondary task. Distractions can include using cell phones, texting, reaching for something or even eating. One very revealing finding was that drivers spent 10% of their time looking at something other than the road.

2. Do you crave the rush busyness brings to your life? Years ago I was introduced to the work by Dr. Edward Hallowell who wrote Crazy Busy. It is an excellent resource and he has created an interesting vocabulary of words to describe behaviors typical of multitaskers. Right now his word “megaloctopus” really speaks to me.  It is about the things that keep you from what you want to be doing. Another word I can relate to is “spray effect” which is what happens to your attention if you are not careful.
When you are doing things and you get too many interruptions or respond to too many distractions, do you start to feel a bit out of balance and less effective?  Time to stop, take a break with something mindless and then come back, prioritize and stay on task.

3. Beware of procrastination. It is a time leech. Here is a quote by Robert Pozen which is a great tip. “I am a great believer in the OHIO principle: Only handle it once. When you read an e-mail, decide whether or not to reply to it, and, if you need to reply, do so right then and there. I have found that about 80 percent of all e-mails, whether internal or external, do not require a response.”

They say you teach what you need to learn so perhaps that is why I felt compelled to include multitasking in this Cable TV/corresponding blog series. About 10 months ago I began sorting through over 35 years of paperwork stored in my basement related to my speech-language pathology career.  Getting closer to the time when the FOR SALE sign goes up, I am very highly motivated to only handle things once. It goes in the donation or trash pile, put in storage, or it is a keeper for now and my storage containers are marked accordingly. Many people say there are times when they have to declutter before moving on to another project. Are you a person who feels better after organizing your clutter?

Tips to Consider:

1. Organize tasks in order of their priority and according to the amount of time they will take.  A system I have found to be quite effective when working on a big project is to make two categories. I decide which of the other things on my “to do list” can be done in a short amount of time and what will require a significant chunk of time without interruption. When I need to take a break from the higher level executive functioning tasks, I find it helpful to pick from the short list or sometimes I need to just take some time out. Find out what works for you then commit to sticking to it so you can reduce your stress, increase your accuracy and your overall productivity.

2. It can be very helpful to organize related tasks because that can help to reduce the mental processing burden. Resist the temptation to task switch because it will defeat the purpose. Task switching can increase errors and then there is the extra time it takes to get back on track.

3. Create a chunk of time for a specific task and only that task. Turn off visual and auditory alerts, close your door or let others know you do not want to be interrupted. If necessary, designate a break to check emails but refrain from getting sidetracked if at all possible until you have spent the time you set aside for a specific task.

4. Appreciate moments of doing nothing.  It is interesting how often people with a few minutes of down time go to their phones and start texting or deleting messages such as once they enter an elevator. Sometimes you like to catch up and use moments here and there like this but you also need to take a break and not always be doing something.

TO DO THIS WEEK:  When prioritizing your schedule make sure you put in time for yourself. Your lifestyle choices matter. Focus on sleep, exercise, and what you eat. Don’t forget to slow down and enjoy your moments.  Breathe and enjoy some time doing nothing or fun.  Connect with someone by phone or in person. Take time to unplug from it all. Do it often during the day to refresh yourself even if it is for just a few minutes here and there.

“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves” Jack Kornfield

Information on Kathryn’s products and links to sample pages.    Kathryn is available for private consultations as well as educational and training programs.

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters ( and Communication Connection( She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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