How many of us experience crazy days? You know, those days when you are working on two or three projects at the same time while trying to dig through the hundreds of emails seeking our attention? Or being bombarded by so much information daily that you are so overwhelmed with things to do that you feel like you are falling apart? Juggling multiple responsibilities both at work and at home?

If you are constantly putting out fires and getting super stressed, it is important for your mental health, sanity and productivity to take the time to gain back control.

Studies show that multi-tasking is less efficient than working in a focused manner. To switch tasks successfully, the brain must marshal the resources required to perform the new task while shutting off, or inhibiting, the demands of the previous one. Therefore, dealing with an interruption while working on something, will distract your brain from what you’ve already set out to do.

Work simpler and get back in control with the following tips:

1. Scope out what you need to get done.

Jot down all the things you are working on for different contexts—calls, projects, errands, home, and so on. It’s helpful to keep a capture tool such as a workbook handy at all times for instant notes on what needs to be done.

2. Make schedules from the to-do lists.

When you schedule a task it stops being an interruption that breaks your train of thought. For example, if the phone rings, don’t answer it. Dealing with whatever the call is about will distract your brain from what you’ve already set out to do. Instead, use the interruption to see if you’re on track with other activities and make calling others one of the things that needs to be scheduled. Setting alarms on your watch or computer are a great way of keeping to your schedule.

3. Work on your projects in stages.

According to Hal Pashler, a professor of psychology at the University of California at San Diego, “When you really study precisely what people’s brains are doing at any moment, there is less concurrent processing than you might think. The brain is more of a time-share operation. When fractions of a second matter, we’re better off not doing another task.”

A functional brain scan shows that visualizing the circumstances in which you need to switch tasks will establish a mental pathway that will be available when you really need it. Therefore when working on multiple projects, schedule your time in stages so that you can focus at each stage:

Spend 15 minutes scoping out a new project as it comes in. Ask yourself, “What’s involved in getting this implemented?” Then leave it.

Come back to it later that day or in a few days and spend a half hour or so doing some research to fill in the requirements for completing the projects, such as resources and time. Then leave it and do something else.
Come back to it in several days before it’s due and start working to complete it.

4. Handle interruptions effectively.

Some interruptions are so urgent that you cannot put it off until you’re done with the task at hand. In these cases, try to make a note of where you are with the task at hand and put aside all the documents or notes so that you can remember where you left off.

5. Maintain a “no-rush” attitude.

A “no-rush” attitude does not mean doing less or having a lower productivity. It means working less stressfully and doing things with greater quality, productivity, perfection and attention to detail. As Edward Deming, quality guru states, “Quality is not an act, it’s a habit.”

6. Keep things in perspective.

It’s easy to lose perspective of the importance of our work in the grand scheme of things. While it is important to get your job completed according to the pre-set deadlines and objectives, we need to recognize when our ego is dominating our actions and we are over-emphasizing our self-importance. This can lead us to over-react to circumstances and frazzle more easily when dealing with other people.

7. Show appreciation.

Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. Taking time to genuinely recognize and acknowledge the hardworking efforts of others can go a long way in helping you receive their support when it’s needed. Furthermore, if we approach our work as a ‘team player’, it opens up the door to developing great relationships with our workmates.

8. Enjoy each moment of life.

Time is a limited resource. Once it passes, we cannot reclaim it. Therefore, it is important to live each moment. This means making each work day a happy and productive one. Many of us live our lives running behind time. Others are so anxious about the future that we forget to live in the present. Remember, the only time that truly exists is the present. Making full use of each present moment to interact with peers, show appreciation and provide support as needed will reduce anxiety and make work both fun and rewarding.

These tips should help you to spend your time at work as productively and enjoyably as possible.

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh. On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends. You may contact her at sstanleigh@bia.ca.