How multitasking makes you less productive

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Q: Captain, 16800479_sAlastair, 37:

“I hate to admit this, but I’m really bad at multitasking. By nature, I like to finish a job before I start another one, and don’t like being distracted by other things. The problem is that as a new Captain I’m finding my way of working is just not practical, as the job seems to pull me in a hundred directions at once and it’s stressing me out to not be able to get to the end of a job before being called away to something else. My emails alone are never-ending, and whole days pass where I seem to work flat out all day but get nothing completed. Is it always like this or am I doing something wrong?”

A: The Crew Coach:

Well, I’ve got good news. Your natural way of doing things is actually better: at least in theory. Research now proves that multi-tasking doesn’t really exist: what we’re actually doing when try to do several different things at once is rapid task switching. The problem with that approach is that it takes time to warm up to the new task, and people who switch their attention between tasks lose up to 40% of productive time. Multitasking has actually led to a massive drop in productivity worldwide, and now companies everywhere are trying to find ways to cut down on employee multitasking. Ironic, really, after spending all that time hiring ‘excellent multi-taskers’!

So it turns out that jobs are done to a higher standard and more quickly when they’re done in one go. But we know it’s not always realistic to be able to work on one task uninterrupted, particularly in yachting! This is especially true in jobs like yours where you have crew, contractors, and agents answering to you and needing your direction. As a Captain, there are a lot of unpredictable and uncontrolled factors getting in the way of your scheduling!

However, that’s not to say that you can’t find ways to manage your day that allow you to power through chunks of work at a time, which will both suit your natural working style and help you be more productive?

How to avoid multitasking nightmares by managing your time better

Ø Don’t use your inbox as your ‘to do list. Set aside specific times of day to work through your emails- preferably when crew won’t need to speak to you. Early morning before the crew start work is obviously ideal, as is lunchtime and late afternoon before dinner. Some captains prefer to start on emails first thing, while others like to get a practical task or two out of the way before getting stuck into emails. That’s up to your working style.

Ø When you are not processing emails, make sure you don’t find yourself interrupting tasks each time an email comes through. Turn off your email pop-up notifications on your computer and phone. Many high-level managers now have an auto-reply on their emails saying ‘I check my emails at 8, 12 and 6. If your enquiry is urgent, please call. If not, I will respond to your email asap.’ Of course, this may seem counter-intuitive and even plain wrong to those of us who feel we need to be constantly in contact- particularly if the boss emails. So let your VIPs know of your new approach and get them to call you for urgent matters, or use one of the clever new apps like Pushover to notify you with an alert only when your VIPs send an email.

Ø Try to break your big jobs into smaller manageable pieces so that you can walk away at certain times without leaving things hanging. (You’ll find this also makes you happier by succeeding at reaching these mini- targets and your stress at having to leave jobs half-done will be minimised).

Ø Try not to feel pressured into giving immediate answers. Because your natural style is to go deep into work mode, your brain will need time to adjust and shift its attention to any new query. So if a crew member comes to you with a question that doesn’t need an immediate answer, let them know you will think about it and come back to them later. You’ll give better answers (and not have to undermine your authority by changing your mind later about a rushed decision).

Ø Many highly successful time managers prepare a to-do list the night before. It cuts out the wasted time at the beginning of the day- and how we start a day sends a powerful message to ourselves about how we mean to continue. If you are productive in the first hour, your sense of success helps you power through your later tasks and sets you up to deal more positively with any challenges that arise.

Realistically, your job as a Captain will always require a certain amount of multi-tasking, or more correctly ‘rapid task switching’. That’s inevitable, and you will become better at it just through practice. You’re new at this so don’t be too hard on yourself. But by following these tips, you’ll find yourself to be more productive, less of a slave to your email, and have a clearer head to deal with the issues of the day.

What are your favourite time management tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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