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Multitasking is Dead, Become a Break Time Master

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Northeastern University Career Development
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Published on July 25, 2014

I was recently at a conference where somebody proclaimed that multitasking wasn’t a real thing. I was dumbfounded – of course it is! I multitask all the time, that’s how awesomely productive I am. The more I thought about it however, the more I realized that there may be some merit to this statement. Recent research shows that multitasking actually doesn’t work well and that the quality of work steadily deteriorates the more we have to multitask. Despite this research, the ability to multitask is a constant requirement on job applications – so how can we do our best work and still not feel like our head is spinning? The answer: break time.

In addition to tackling only one or two tasks at a time, taking a break is vital to productivity. The word is; for every 90 minutes of work we should take a 15 minute break. If you’re anything like me, your reaction to that should be an immediate cringe with a side of good, old-fashioned guilt. For students, that’s serious study time and for professionals, that’s time dedicated to completing a deadline. But if the words are melting off the page and you have to read a sentence on the computer screen four separate times to understand it – whose time are you really wasting? So how do you become a Break Master you may ask? Read on my friend, and you shall be schooled.

1. Limit the multitasking and focus on one task at a time

Yes, there will certainly be times when you’ll be asked to balance multiple projects; this is the reality of the workplace, but if you can focus on one task and do it well- you’ll be more productive. If your brain starts to feel like mush, get off the computer and go for a walk – I find coffee is always a good excuse.

2. Don’t open Gchat (or any social media for that matter)

Gchat is the death of me. I love casually chatting with friends while doing work, but in the end it’s only a distraction. If I have to concentrate on something for an extended period of time, I make it a point to never even open it. Cue the gasps. I know it’s difficult, but if you can master a work/school project, with constant in-person interruptions and six Gchat convos, then you’re not human. Save the Gchat for a quiet day at work.

For those of you who work in social media like me, it’s hard to not be on Twitter, Facebook, and Hootsuite all day. To stop Twitter from hijacking my entire day, I block off chunks of my schedule and devote that time to working on social media. Once that time is up, I close it out – it’s all about will power!

3. Eat lunch and NOT at your desk

We associate our desks with work and productivity, so how could you possibly relax if you’re sitting in the same seat you’re supposed to be most productive? Taking a lunch break is a great reason to get away and give your brain a rest. Try and pack something good that you will look forward to eating; it makes lunch more enjoyable and encourages you to take a break.

4. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t check email after work or while on vacation

Yes, I know we live in a 24/7/365 kind of culture. As somebody who runs the social media for her department, I struggle with this, but it’s not really a vacation if you’re working on the down low. Americans already take the least vacation time and work the most – don’t perpetuate this statistic. In fact, we need to rally together and reverse this statistic so that we can become a much happier workforce.

Also, when you get home and you’re “relaxing” try to pick at least one night when you’re not on some sort of mobile device. If you’re antsy like me and need something to do with your hands while watching TV, I recently discovered that adult coloring books are very soothing and help me decompress (which found at many local bookstores, and don’t judge me until you try it!). If you’re not into that, try reading actual magazine or attempt a crossword – Words With Friends does not count.

5. Let go of the guilt

We are only human; everyone needs a break once in a while. There will be days that breaks will not be an option, so take advantage of the mellow days and make it a priority to take breaks on days that it’s not – even if you have to schedule it in your calendar. Your Break Masterdom will, in the end, make you a more productive and happier employee, which I don’t think anybody will ever think is a bad thing.

Northeastern University Career Development

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