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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Effective multi-tasking

Adrian O’Connor

In the workplace, multi-tasking has become a mandatory skill. So how can you multi-task effectively? The first step is recognising that the entire process is, essentially, a form of time management. Here’s some additional advice:

Create a schedule of priorities
Multi-tasking madness often results from not being able to decide which task to do first – you switch from one assignment to another as you constantly re-prioritise. In the end, many projects and activities do not receive the necessary attention. Get off this mental merry-go-round by using a calendar to organise your immediate work-related priorities. Consult this schedule throughout the day to ensure your focus remains on the most pressing projects.

Don’t let time be your enemy
Consider this scenario: You are compiling figures for an important report when the phone rings. A colleague needs help with his research and asks if you can swing by. Though you have only a few minutes to spare, you don’t return to your desk until an hour later. Multi-tasking also often causes workers to focus on the most recent project – and for more time than originally intended. To avoid this, try setting a timer to alert you when it is time to switch gears and move on to the next project. Be disciplined; unless a critical request arises, don’t change your focus until it’s time to do so.

Keep your desk clean
Don’t let clutter distract you from making smooth transitions from one assignment to the next. Immediately file away the work related to the previous task so that it is out of sight – and out of mind. Use a file cabinet or organiser to hold all your paperwork and take out what you need only when you are working on it. If something new comes along, don’t look at it until you are ready to make a place for it in your schedule of priorities.

Don’t be afraid to unplug
While technology can increase your productivity, it also can be the source of tremendous distraction. Be brave and turn off your electronic devices when necessary. Also consider putting a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on your door or outside your cubicle to make sure people understand that you intend to focus on something important for a certain amount of time and do not wish to be interrupted.

There are times when multi-tasking does help you achieve more. However, it is important to think before automatically assuming you’ll be more productive by doing everything at once. Some projects require all of your attention, and figuring out which ones do will save you time and may even help you get more done.

Adrian O’Connor is regional manager of Robert Half Finance & Accounting. Robert Half Finance & Accounting is the world’s first and largest recruitment consultancy, specialising in the placement of accounting and finance professionals on a temporary and permanent basis. Visit us at

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