We all like to think that we are expert jugglers, handling several tasks at once, but the truth is, we’re not.
What looks like multi-tasking is actually swift attention-switching. If what you are doing is on auto-pilot, you may be able to handle two things, because one is taking minimal attention. You may be able to walk and carry on a conversation, but if you are scrambling up a rocky hill or crossing heavy traffic, the conversation will pause. You may be singing along to your favorite tunes while you drive, but if you run into heavy traffic or are lost, searching for an address or street sign, you will probably turn down the radio.
If two or more tasks require your concentration, juggling will not go well. The process will be like trying to watch two programs on tv at the same time; you may switch back and forth and get a general idea of what’s going on, but you won’t have a complete picture of either. It doesn’t serve you at work, it’s how dinner gets burned at home, and it even harms your relationships. People can sense whether you are paying attention to them or the football game, and if you are answering emails while they’re on the phone.
The key to getting more done, and done well, is limiting what you give your attention to. Instead of doing three things at once, prioritize them and do those three things in a row, giving each your full attention and taking a short break between.
Here’s a good article about making more productive use of your time at work: