Multitasking is often seen as a necessary evil for freelancers. We are often forced to handle multiple projects at a time, which can be exhausting and lower our productivity. Yet, there are ways to multitask wisely. In this post, we will share some project management tips to help you stay on track.
Is multitasking a must?
There is no denying that multitasking is a part of being a freelancer. We are used to wearing a lot of hats. We need to be the jack of all trades because our clients expect us to be an expert in everything. That necessary leads to a situation, where we have to juggle a lot of different tasks at the same time.
We recently asked our freelancing community on LinkedIn a question: How many projects do you usually handle at a time? The numbers do not lie: only 9% of respondents answered that they only take care of one project. Of 50 people surveyed, 53% is juggling between two or three projects at a time, while 38% handles 4 or even more. There is no doubt that multitasking is an integral part of freelancers’ work.
Why do we multitask in the first place?
There are, of course, clear benefits of multitasking. Let’s take a closer look at 5 major ones.
1. It allows you to take on more work and earn more money
If you are a freelancer, then chances are that you are always looking for ways to increase your earnings. One of the best ways to do this is by taking on more work, and the best way to do that is by multitasking effectively.
2. It helps you meet deadlines
When you are juggling many projects at once, meeting deadlines can be a challenge. But if you know how to multitask, you can get everything done on time (and maybe even early!).
3. It can make you more productive
If you are able to focus on many tasks simultaneously, you will be able to get more done in less time. This is because you are using your time more efficiently and not spending valuable minutes switching between tasks. Still, not everyone will actually feel more productive when doing many things at the same type, as it varies from person to person.
4. It improves your time management skills
By learning how to multitask, you will also learn how to manage your time more effectively. This is a valuable skill that will come in handy both in your personal life and in your professional career.
5. It gives you a competitive edge
In today’s workforce, the ability to multitask is becoming increasingly important. If you can do it well, it will give you a competitive edge over other freelancers. You may finish your projects faster.
Despite these benefits that multitasking can bring you, the recent studies are not necessarily in favor of such approach. René Marois, expert in neuroscience who leads study projects on attentional capacity limits, says that
Our brains do not handle multitasking situations well. As soon as two tasks require our attention, productivity suffersRené Marois
Basically, multitasking is a skill of moving between many tasks, without losing attention or productivity level. But is that really possible? Let’s take a look at the downsides of this approach.
What if multitasking is overrated?
Having to juggle multiple projects at once can be both frustrating and lead to a drop in productivity. And it is not just mentally exhausting, it is also physically exhausting. We have to be constantly alert and ready to go, and it takes a toll on our bodies. Let’s see the traps that multitasking is bringing us.
Multitasking can lead to poorer performance on all tasks and decreased productivity
When you try to do two things at once, your brain has to rapidly switch back and forth between the two tasks. This constant switching can lead to errors, omissions, and generally poorer performance on both tasks. Also, a report published by the University of California shows that when you multitask, your memory capacity is reduced, and you may have troubles remembering the tasks that you were taking care of.
When you are trying to do two things at once, it is more difficult to pay attention to detail and produce high-quality work. This is because your brain is divided between the two tasks, making it more difficult to focus on either one.
Multitasking can lead to increased stress levels and a quick burnout
The constant switching that is required for multitasking can also lead to increased levels of stress. This is because your brain is working harder than it would if you were just focused on one task. When you are trying to take care of too many tasks at a time, it may produce a sense of panic of not being able to do all of them in the time allocated.
Finally, constantly trying to do two things at once can eventually lead to burnout. This is because multitasking is a form of mental stress, and too much stress can lead to physical and mental exhaustion.
Can we multitask wisely?
Making the decision to multitask is at least as challenging for most people as actually performing multiple tasks successfully. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your ability to multitask.
1. Keep a master to-do list and prioritize it
You can’t keep everything straight in your head—you need to externalize it. Having a central, always-updated record of everything you need to do will help you stay organized and on track. Being able to organize everything you have to do is an essential part of a successful multitasking.
So, writing in down is one thing, but it is not all! One of the biggest mistakes of multitasking is not prioritizing your tasks. Once you have your tasks list, you should give them a closer look and try to figure out which ones need to be handled first.
Remember, that taking on too much at once can cause unnecessary stress and worry. Try to assess the time needed to complete each one of the tasks and plan enough time to complete your goals. Make sure your to-do list for one day is actually feasible. This will save you unnecessary panic attack, when you realize that your workload is unrealistic to handle.
2. Know when to focus
You may think that this is relatively obvious. There will be times when multitasking is impossible or unwise. If you are trying to complete a task that requires deep concentration, close all other tabs and apps, and give it your full attention.
Avoiding distractions is essential when you are trying to complete your tasks. It can be a challenge, especially when you are working from home. There are a few things you can do to make sure you are not getting distracted. One is to set specific times for checking your email and social media. This way, you are not constantly refreshing your inbox or scrolling through your feed while you are trying to focus on other things.
3. Batch similar tasks
One of the reasons why multitasking is such a challenge is the need to switch your focus between different duties. Some tasks are naturally suited for multitasking, like answering email or taking care of administrative tasks. Take advantage of this by batching similar tasks together so you can get them out of the way quickly.
The more similar or related the tasks, the easier it will make to shift your focus and continue working without losing time.
4. Delegate or outsource
Remember: not every task needs to be done by you—in fact, delegating or outsourcing can be an effective way to free up your time for more important tasks. When in doubt, ask yourself if someone else could do the task just as well (or better). It is a tricky thing when you are a freelancer, but the technology can come in handy at this point. If you do not have a teammate, check for smart tools that you could use to drop some of your tasks out of your shoulders.
5. Take breaks and reward yourself
It is important to step away from your work periodically to rest and recharge. When you are feeling overwhelmed or bogged down, take a few minutes to yourself to clear your head before getting back to work. Also, when you are handling multiple projects, it is possible that you will not complete all the projects at once. That is why dividing your tasks in small parts and setting little goals is an effective way to trick your mind. Crossing off the list small accomplishments helps you feel the satisfaction of having the work done. After completing a challenging task, give yourself a pat on the back (or a small treat!) to stay motivated.
Practice, practice, practice…!
Skills in multitasking come with practice. The more familiar you are with a specific task, the easier it is to do it automatically. How effectively tips and strategies work for your unique situation can’t be known unless you actually try them out. Try out different methods and see for yourself which of them help you stay productive and increase your speed for finishing projects.