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Like it or not, multitasking has become de facto for workers. Bouncing between answering emails, checking text messages, reading news headlines and attending meetings, employees are more inundated with data and distractions than ever before.

Millennials are especially prone to flitting between screens, browser tabs and actions. At the same time, research about multitasking’s harmful effects continues to emerge. A McKinsey study found that only 9 percent of executives are “very satisfied” with how employees’ time was allocated.

How can managers encourage these overly wired team members to stay focused?

  • Give employees creative tasks that provide incentive enough to focus. “Make sure they grasp the point of what they’re doing. Many switch-taskers say they don’t care how productive they are because their work is 'just dumb,’” says Neil Howe, author of Milliennials in the Workplace.
  • Streamline meeting schedules. Ineffective meetings are among the top time wasters in the work week. Make sure that every meeting has a clear purpose, or else employees might be forced to involuntarily multitask for lack of time.
  • Make the ability to focus part of company culture. Management can lead by example, refraining from texting during meetings, for instance, and voicing the merits of concentrating on one task at a time.

For employees susceptible to multitasking (who isn’t?), here are some ways to stay focused:

  • Schedule time to “unitask.” When employees have a memo to write or a deck to prepare, they should block off a set time on their calendars to devote all of their attention to that one item.
  • Unitask for a specific amount of time. It might not be feasible to focus on one agenda item for hours on end, but employees can set aside say, 10 minutes, to answer an email, and follow through.
  • Use tools to turn off distractions. RescueTime provide users with data about how much time they spend on different activities. It also let employees block distracting websites for certain periods of time. AwayFind re-prioritizes users’ emails based on important senders and topics, decreasing the need to check the inbox every few minutes. Coffee Break lets employees schedule a break, and turns their screens dark when it’s time to step away for a minute.

What do you think managers can do to limit multitasking and help employees focus?

 

[Image via CanStock]