Some things that we do to improve our productivity are big things: use a task list rather than memory, say “No” appropriately, block calendar time, etc.
Other productivity-improvement efforts are subtle. Understanding task transitions is one of those. But, small changes can have big impacts.
A task transition is just what it sounds like – a mental and physical shift from one task to another.
When we are being productive, our task transitions are a smooth process of moving from one thing to the next.
Transition periods between tasks are also full of productivity-stealing temptations. We may interrupt a colleague to chat, get involved with social media, or get immersed in email, thus losing minutes – or even hours – of time.
The opportunities to lose time when you are ending one task and starting another is one reason that multitasking is ineffective. When you are multitasking, all you are doing is rapid-fire task switching.
Most people find it challenging to go from one task to another seamlessly. It is too easy to lose “Flow”, that state of mind in which you are focused on the task at hand and not distracted by anything else. The mind is still in one place and doesn’t want to leave it.
However, effective transitions from one task to the next are easily achieved with a good mixture of forethought and self-discipline.
My recommended method of transitioning from one task to the next has four primary elements:
- Group similar tasks together. You will maximize your Flow state by keeping your mind in one place.
- Decide ahead of time which tasks you will be working on that day, or during a time window.
- Remember that the transition between tasks will be smoother and the adjustment time faster if you have identified the second task ahead of time.
Tackle Task A
- Begin with the most difficult and least familiar task first; the second one will be easier.
- Work the task
- Before putting the task away, jot down a few notes about what was completed and what needs to be done next. Make sure your notes are readily available to you the next time you work on the task or project.
- Update your To-Do list with any next steps.
- Finish the job. Close all open windows on your computer. File or toss all papers on your desk related to the task.
- For particularly long or complex tasks, take a 5 to 10-minute break to put space between the project completed and the upcoming one.
- Do one or two smaller tasks in between two larger ones. However, use the timer app on your phone to help you get back on track quickly.
Tackle Task B
- Review the second task and decide what needs to be done. That will ease you into the task and give you a clear starting point.
- Work the task
- Wrap-up Task B, making notes of progress and next steps
- Finish the job
With a little pre-planning and a functioning system to manage action items, you will find fewer temptations to procrastinate during the intervals between tasks.
You may be happily surprised that you will save time overall, complete more tasks, and experience lowered levels of workplace stress.
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Dr. Melissa Gratias (pronounced "Gracious") is a work psychologist who helps overwhelmed and underappreciated businesspeople be more focused and effective. Since 2007, thousands of people have graduated with honors from her onsite sessions, distance coaching, productivity seminars, and corporate consulting projects. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Melissa is available for nationwide consulting and speaking engagements. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 912-417-2505. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter or visit her website, melissagratias.com.