Sujay Kundu

Overcoming multitasking habits by Time blocking techniques

Multitasking, once thought to be a positive trait, has now been proven to decrease productivity. While multitasking, your brain shifts from one topic to another, which takes time. Sometimes that brain shift takes a microsecond, and other times it may take a few minutes to get back to where you were before you were interrupted. No matter what, there is always some loss of time.

The reality of multitasking is that you’re giving only half (or less) of your attention to each task. This negatively impacts your ability to do anything well. In fact, according to Stanford study, people who multitask underperform in every area. For instance, multitasking results in, among other things, impaired memory.

Rebecca used to pride herself on her ability to multitask and wore multitasking as a badge of honor. She always kept several email tabs open at the top of her Web browser so she would immediately know when a email came in from one of her clients.

Eventually she realised there was something wrong with this approach. In spite of starting work at 6.00 am and often working until 11:00 pm, Rebecca seldom made much progress on her to-do list, no matter how hard she worked. Her constant interruptions via email meant she frantically ran from one request to the next, which left her unfocused on the most important tasks.

On top of that, her constant interruptions meant that she often stopped in the middle of a sentence
When writing an email to respond to an urgent need that came in via a different email. This resulted in confusion about what she had actually finished and what still needed her attention. It wasn’t uncommon to find half-written emails in her drafts folder, days after she thought she had sent them.

The bottom line is that if you’re regularly multitasking regardless of how hard you work, you’re likely putting out inferior work.

One of the best ways to break free from multitasking madness and avoid distractions is to block out your workday in to small blocks of time and then work uninterrupted , completely focused on one specific task during that block of time.

During this time, you don’t check email, hop on Facebook, send text messages or switch between projects.

You simply focus on the one task you’ve chosen for that specific block of time.

Time blocking enables you to take control of your time and get the most important tasks done.


There are three actions you can take to overcome the multitasking habit:

Action 1: Block out your ideal week. Your ideal week should include a mix of business and personal time. Rather than putting huge blocks of time such as “work” on your calendar, be more specific and block out time for certain major task categories on your calendar.

For instance, Steve blocks out time for writing, social media, working on projects, personal commitments and even his marathon training runs. Even though he works for himself, he finds that his regimented schedule helps him stay focused on the current activity.

When starting out, you don’t necessarily have to block out a whole week. Try doing it at the beginning of each day. Then once you’re comfortable with this habit, spend a few hours one day to play out the forthcoming week.

Action 2 : Pomodoro Technique

Try the Pomodoro Technique. Both Steve and Rebecca use the Pomodoro Technique to help them focus during their blocks of time. This technique was created by a man named Francesco Cirillo in the mid-1980s. He discoverd that focusing internally on a specific task for a short period of time and then taking a short break increased focus and resulted in getting more done.

Here’s how it works:

1. Create a list of tasks you want to complete for the day or during a specific block of time.

2. Put those tasks in priority order.

3. Set a timer for 25 minutes.

4. Work on the first task on your list until the timer goes off.

5. Make note of the first Pomodoro as a completed task.

6. Take a five-minute break. During this break, get up and move around. You can grab a cup of coffee, do some stretching exercises or take care of a quick household chore such as emptying the dishwasher. The main thing is to have a complete mental break from the task you were working on, and to walk away from the computer.

To keep your five-minute break from turning in to a fifteen minute or longer break, be sure to set a timer for five minutes.

7. Start the second Pomodoro, picking up where you left off on your task list.

8. Repat this process. Once you’ve completed four pomodoros, take a 15 – 30 minute break.

9. Continue this process until you’ve accomplished the most important tasks for your day.

If you follow the pomodoro technique strictly, one of the “rules” is that there is no such thing as half a Pomodoro. If you’re interrupted, you have to start the Pomodoro over again. While this may seem extreme, the reason for this rule is that it trains you to block out distractions and interruptions, and focus intently on the task on hand.

If you work around other people, you’ll need to explain the Pomodoro Technique to them so they’ll understand why you need to work uninterrupted.

For instance, Rebeccas husband works at home with her, and it’s natural for them to converse throughout the day. Since she’s explained the Pomodoro Technique to him he knows exactly what she’s talking about when she says, “I’m in the middle of a Pomodoro”, and gives her the space she needs to complete it, knowing she’ll check in with him during the break.

It takes time to adjust to the Pomodoro Technique but you’ll find that, once you get used to it, it will really help you get into the zone and get more done.

Action 3: One Tab Open Technique

Use the “One Tab” method. Having only one tab open on your computer at a time is a great way to reduce the temptation to multitask.

As an example, if you’ve blocked out time for email, then leave this tab open and close everything else. If you’re updating a financial spreadsheet, have nothing but the spreadsheet open and close all other tabs. Simple, right ?

Obviously, If you need other tabs to complete a current task, then leave them open. If you’re updating a financial spreadsheet, you may need to have the spreadsheet and your online bank statement open, but you wouldn’t need to open tabs for Facebook or email.