From neverending notifications to monotonous meetings, it’s easy to look at your day and think there are simply not enough hours to get it all done. Ask a room full of accountants for their advice on how to best tackle those days, and one of them is bound to say “multitask.”
But, multitasking is a myth, many experts say. According to Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montréal, it can actually cause us to be less productive. In his book, “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” Levitin explains the science behind information overload, and details what the body does to cope with it. Spoiler alert: it’s not pretty. In addition to burning up glucose – the fuel that brain cells need to work – it can release the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to sudden bursts of adrenaline. Health and medical writer Jane Langille says that this is what leads to office anxiety, stress and burnout.
So, what can accountants really do to get more done? They can stop trying to multitask, and instead make the most of their time by organizing and then protecting it.
Set a schedule
It’s obvious, but oh-so-necessary. Spend a week or so paying attention to your habits. If you’re most productive in the mornings, set aside uninterrupted time for tackling the most important to-do’s on your list then. If you find yourself regularly burning out by 3 p.m., schedule a 20-minute break and take it! By allotting yourself time to spend on each specific task, you’ll avoid making errors caused by distraction — and, hopefully, not have to take your phone with you into the bathroom to answer emails.
Make the most of meetings
Not all meetings are pointless, but many are. Michael Mankins, Bain & Company partner and head of the firm’s organization practice, told the Harvard Business Review that most meetings run too long and involve too many people. According to the company’s research, many employees are spending up to 11 hours each week in meetings, and half of that, Mankins says, is unnecessary because:
- The meeting should never have been scheduled in the first place.
- The meeting should have been scheduled, but each person didn’t need to attend.
- The meeting should have been scheduled and each person should attend, but only for a portion.
Any of this sound familiar? It’s hard to just respond “No” to every meeting invite you deem unnecessary. Instead, consider introducing guidelines that will keep them focused, productive and short. For example:
- Set a time limit.
- Insist on an agenda.
- Invite no more than the necessary attendees; excuse them early, as needed.
- Ban email, IMs and phone calls — meetings are not the place to “multitask.”
- Assign someone to take action on tasks discussed.
Identify and eliminate time wasters
No matter how hard you try, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. If you find yourself in a meeting that no longer applies to you, find a way to politely excuse yourself.
Additionally, learn to say no — to others and yourself. This doesn’t mean you should turn down every opportunity to collaborate with, or help, a coworker, or never give yourself a much needed break. Just be honest with yourself about the distinction.