Christo­pher Mur­phy tack­les the tricky topic of task man­age­ment in an in­creas­ingly busy age

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Christo­pher Mur­phy tack­les the tricky topic of task man­age­ment in a busy age

As knowl­edge work­ers toil­ing at the dig­i­tal coal­face, we reg­u­larly find our­selves manag­ing mul­ti­ple tasks at once. All too of­ten those tasks add up, ren­der­ing it hard to fo­cus and get things done.

Es­tab­lish­ing a task man­age­ment – or to-do – sys­tem can make all the dif­fer­ence. Your sys­tem might be ana­logue or dig­i­tal but, re­gard­less, it’s im­por­tant to have one.

One ap­proach on the ana­logue side of the equa­tion is the Bul­let Jour­nal ( bul­letjour­nal.com), which bills it­self as: “The ana­logue sys­tem for the dig­i­tal age.” Ry­der Car­roll, cre­ator of the Bul­let Jour­nal method, even has a book of­fer­ing the tan­ta­lis­ing prospect that you can “track the past, order the present and de­sign the fu­ture”.

The Bul­let Jour­nal method is tai­lored around a sys­tem of be­spoke bul­lets: points (‘.’) for to-dos; cir­cles (‘o’) for events; dashes (‘–’) for notes; and so on. It might sound com­pli­cated but, like any sys­tem, it gets eas­ier with prac­tice. If you’ve been track­ing to-dos via a note­book, it’s worth spend­ing a lit­tle time ex­plor­ing the method­ol­ogy, which re­ally can en­hance your ex­ist­ing ap­proach.

On the dig­i­tal side of the equa­tion, tools like Things ( cul­tured­code.com) of­fer a seam­less, soft­waredriven ap­proach to the task of tack­ling tasks. A task man­ager for Ap­ple de­vices, Things is de­signed to help you man­age and achieve your goals, so you can or­gan­ise all your to-dos in one place.

A beau­ti­fully de­signed suite of ap­pli­ca­tions that won an Ap­ple De­sign Award in 2017, Things makes track­ing tasks en­joy­able thanks to its de­light­ful in­ter­ac­tions. Even if you’re not bought in to Ap­ple’s op­er­at­ing sys­tems, Things is still worth ex­plor­ing for its el­e­gant user-ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign.

The myth of mul­ti­task­ing

Map­ping out your mul­ti­ple tasks is, of course, only half of the equa­tion; the other is com­plet­ing them, which is where fo­cused sin­gle-task­ing comes in.

Doubt­less every­one’s heard of mul­ti­task­ing: the abil­ity to un­der­take mul­ti­ple tasks in tan­dem. The trou­ble is mul­ti­task­ing is a myth. Neu­ro­science has not only es­tab­lished that it is more stress­ful than un­der­tak­ing tasks in­di­vid­u­ally, it’s also less pro­duc­tive and tech­ni­cally not even pos­si­ble.

As Cyn­thia Kubu and An­dre Machado, two noted neu­ro­sci­en­tists, ex­plain in ‘Why Mul­ti­task­ing Is Bad for You’ ( bit.ly/mul­ti­task­ingis­bad): “One study found that just 2.5% of peo­ple are able to mul­ti­task ef­fec­tively… re­peat­edly switch­ing back and forth from project to project, like a hum­ming­bird dart­ing from flower to flower, can im­pair our abil­ity to func­tion at our finest”.

Kubu and Machado also note that “iso­lat­ing out of the mul­ti­task­ing world” brings many ben­e­fits, stress­ing that we “un­equiv­o­cally per­form best, one thing at a time”.

What we think of as mul­ti­task­ing is, in fact, just the brain switch­ing rapidly be­tween tasks and do­ing so in­ef­fi­ciently. A far bet­ter ap­proach is to side­step mul­ti­task­ing and work your way through your to-do list a sin­gle task at a time.

Put to­gether the two halves of the equa­tion – a task man­age­ment sys­tem, be it ana­logue, dig­i­tal (or both); and a sin­gle-task­ing mind­set – and you will have a recipe for pro­duc­tiv­ity suc­cess. To-do list, ticked off!

An award-win­ning task man­ager for Ap­ple de­vices, Things helps you man­age the con­tents of your to-do list and tick them off, one by one.

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