Multitasking tips: Common time-wasters and how to avoid them

This article addresses two common barriers to a successful multi-tasking lifestyle: lack of organization and lack of planning. The article offers suggestions for how to eliminate these problems.

There’s no denying it . . .life is busier, faster, and harder than it was in our grandparents’ time. For most of us in that stage of life between high school and retirement, taking care of the family, the house, and the demands of a career exact a large toll. Time is of the essence more than ever before. And when scheduling pressures are mixed with the corollary problems of insufficient sleep, guilt over not being able to do it all, and poor eating habits, the result is an entire generation of Americans who feel poorly, both emotionally and physically.

Multitasking tips: Common time-wasters and how to avoid them

The answer to this conundrum is not simple. Barring a fundamental societal or cultural reformation in priorities, it is, for the most part, up to the individual to find ways to meet the heavy demands and extraordinary challenges of daily life. Born of necessity, many over-stressed Americans who find themselves in this situation have developed a helpful system for keeping all the balls in the air in the juggling act of life. It is usually summed up in one all-encompassing word: multi-tasking.

Because our lives are each unique, the acts which constitute multi-tasking vary from person to person. But the underlying concept is simple: being able to perform two or more actions simultaneously, thereby making premium use of one’s time.

Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? But for many of us, entrenched bad habits make multi-tasking difficult, or even impossible, to incorporate into our lives. Here are a few of the most common time-wasters and some tips on how to avoid them:

Lack of organization — Learn to live by the maxim, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” For example, placing your keys and purse or wallet in the same place in your home every time you walk in the door will prevent you from having to search all over for them when you are ready to leave again.

Too much stuff — Inventory your home and office, and get rid of items you no longer need. Make two piles: one for trash, and one for charitable donation.

Failure to archive or store old or seldom used items — Rather than allow ancient records to continue taking up space, consider scanning the documents and storing them on a computer disk. Instead of keeping functionless but sentimental items in bags on the floor of the closet or stuffed under the bed, put them in sealed plastic containers, label the lids, and store then in the garage or attic.

Regularly-used supplies and tools are absent or scattered — Think of your desk as your life’s command center, and resolve to keep all the supplies you use regularly in very close proximity. Stock it with tape, rubber bands, pens and pencils, envelopes, stamps, a stapler with extra staples, a pad of paper, and any other items you need. Keeping all these commonly-used tools in one place will eliminate that familiar scene of rushing around in a desperate search for a pen and paper to take a simple telephone message.

Not taking advantage of commuting or waiting time — Think about the places you find yourself every day. Ask yourself how many of these places are amenable to accomplishing more than one task. The subway? Your car? How about the waiting room at the dentist’s office, or your child’s soccer practice? To make the most of your time in these circumstances, think of your vehicle as your satellite office and keep a few supplies there. Though there are a limited number of tasks you can safely perform while driving, there may be many instances after you arrive at your destination when you can accomplish additional tasks.

Exercise time doesn’t pull double-duty — A lot of stressed out, time-crunched people have incorporated exercise into their schedules. Those who exercise regularly jealously guard this precious time to themselves to release frustrations and unwind from a long day. But sometimes the stuff that remains in the mind thwarts the total release of tension from the body. To solve this problem, some savvy multi-taskers keep a small voice-activated recorder handy while they jog, garden, or work out in the gym. When those annoying “gotta do” or “forgot to do” thoughts invade a great endorphin high, the simple act of recording a reminder is often enough to effect a mental erase.

Not keeping a written or computer-generated planning calendar — Using a planner is absolutely imperative to ensure that small details don’t slip through the cracks of a busy schedule.

Failure to consolidate and map out errands and chores — Each evening, review the calendar entries for the following day. Arrange the order of your errands and appointments so that you can travel the most efficient route and eliminate backtracking. If you see that the potential exists in your schedule for waiting in a long line or sitting in a waiting room, be sure to gather anything you will need to accomplish other tasks during that time. Prepare a “go pile” next to the door of all the items you will take with you when you leave the following morning.

There are, of course, certain times which should always be dedicated to a single activity: sleeping, worshiping, or spending time with family. But for the remaining hours in the day, be assured that you too can learn to clip coupons while you talk on the phone, plan a dinner menu while you change a diaper, and balance your checkbook while you make the obligatory weekly call to your mother. Multi-tasking, like other habits, becomes easier with perseverance and practice.

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