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How to Eliminate Multitasking at Your Practice


Don't be seduced into thinking "more is better." Multitasking can actually slow down productivity in your practice.

Many practice managers and staff can feel like they are riding a runaway horse. The culprit is the seemingly endless list of competing priorities they are faced with throughout the workday. From ICD-10 to PQRS, these priorities create a sense of urgency that keeps folks bouncing from one thing to another all day long, in hopes that they can check everything off their to-do list. In reality however, all this back-and-forth multitasking makes you less productive, not more. Bust these four common multitasking myths and trade them for more productive alternatives.

"I'm a great multitasker." Actually, you're not. Computers multitask. Humans don't. A computer's operating system enables it to perform more than one task at a time without losing data or failing to process information. Human brains don't work this way. What we call "multitasking" is actually "serial tasking" or "task-switching" - moving from one task to another in rapid succession.

Multitaskers get more done. Nope. Data indicate that all the switching caused by multitasking is counterproductive. In fact it can reduce productivity by up to 40 percent. That's because each time we switch our attention from one thing to the next thing, it takes time to get our brain "up to speed," so to speak.

Multitasking is an admirable quality/talent. Actually, it's less a quality/talent and more an inability to focus on one thing at a time. And studies show that those who multitask often are the worst at it - yet, they believe they are the best. So, if you've hired folks you'd hoped would be "great multitaskers" at the front desk - don't be surprised when they drop the ball. It's simply human nature. And the ball dropping will be worse if the employee is a self-professed multitasker.

Multitaskers absorb more because they are consuming more information. Not true. Multitaskers tend to skim information and tasks, glossing over deeper concepts in favor of following a new piece of information or a media distraction (such as a text message). So if you're in need of thoughtful analysis or deep understanding of a topic, multitasking will be a failed strategy. Instead, remove distractions and focus on the task at hand. Don't fracture your time and learning by popping in and out of e-mail. You'll have greater success by scheduling large blocks of interrupted time to complete things.

Here are five simple ways to combat the urge to multitask:

1. Close your e-mail while working on something at your desk. That way you aren't tempted to do a brain bounce and read e-mail in real-time. If you're concerned about getting back to people quickly, set an "out of office" responder such as: "I got your e-mail but I'm heads-down analyzing data for next year's budget today. I'll respond after 3 p.m."

2. Reserve blocks of time for projects. Schedule time on your calendar as if the project is a meeting. Let people know you are "booked." Don't allow interruptions. You'll get your project done a lot faster this way.

3. Be present. Don't check text and e-mail during webinars, phone conversations, and meetings. Doing so makes you a "distracted listener," and you'll get about half (if you are lucky) of the information being provided.

4. Ignore device "dings" and "ASAP." Both create a false sense of urgency that can take you off task. Complete what you are doing first - then check that device. And respond to an ASAP request politely with, "Please provide me with a date so I can meet your needs, as well as manage the other deadlines I'm working on."

5. Each morning, identify the top two things you must do that day. If these are the only things you complete, consider the day a success.

Cheryl Toth is a senior consultant and writer with KarenZupko & Associates, Inc. She can be reached via editor@physicianspractice.com.

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