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Stop multitasking
Stop multitasking

Jan 03 2023 / Round the Table Magazine

Stop multitasking

Ong discovered that single tasking was the key to greater productivity, personally and professionally.

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As businesses strive to do more with less and advisors already have a lot on their plates, multitasking is such a desired attribute that it’s no wonder the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities at once is mentioned in many job opening posts. Multitasking is thought to be a sign of competence and efficiency, but it actually is a productivity killer. 

The human brain is not meant to multitask. Scores of research will tell you so. For example, a University of London study found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks saw their IQ score decline. A study by a French medical research agency had participants undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while trying to complete two tasks at the same time. The MRI showed that the prefrontal cortex of the brain that helps focus attention on a single goal, was overwhelmed by activity, causing the subjects to forget details and make mistakes. Finally, proving that less distraction yields more, researchers from the University of California, Irvine strapped heart monitors on office employees and tracked their computer use while cutting them off from email for five days. Those workers were less stressed, focused on one task for longer periods and switched screens less often. 

“For a financial advisor, multitasking is a killer. It doesn’t allow you to focus deeply on one thing at a time,” said Michael Ong Chong Ghee, a two-year MDRT member from Penang, Malaysia. “To me, multitaskers are the not the epitome of their efficiency. Single-mindedness is.”

Single-mindedness or single tasking is focusing on one thing at a time. Doing so allows you to be fully present and immersed in the task at hand. Some people refer to it as being “in the zone” or “in a state of flow.”

“For example, I’m in front of my laptop speaking to a customer via Zoom. I am not getting distracted by messages, phone calls, app notifications,” Ong said. “If you’re getting distracted, your clients can see this and know you are not fully paying attention to them and no longer feel prioritized. To me, being productive or effective can be achieved with single tasking.”

Create blocks of time

But when Ong first became a financial services advisor, he was trying to juggle many different responsibilities at once. 

“I would have to go to meetings with clients, develop proposals, find solutions to their financial problems and answer phone calls at night if they had questions about their policies,” he said. “As I started to grow, I decided to start setting professional boundaries with my clients and colleagues to work more effectively. I would let them know Mondays to Fridays are for my clients, and weekends are reserved for my family. If anyone objected, I would say, ‘I’m sure you have a family and can understand this. If you have an urgent case, I will definitely answer but if it is not, is it OK if I answer on Monday?’”

Clients expect replies within minutes, and advisors unfortunately are conditioned to respond almost immediately. So, Ong’s advice to new financial advisors is to establish boundaries at the very beginning. Once clients and colleagues know when a good time is to reach you, you should have more time to concentrate on one task at a time instead of dealing with multiple requests simultaneously.

He also recommends creating a timetable or task schedule to allocate the right amount of time to spend on specific activities. Ong sets aside the first hour of the workday, 8:30 to 9:30, for meetings, which is also when he gets his motivation for the day.

“Meetings are a must,” he said. “They help you to keep in check and align with the goals you have set.”

From 9:30 onward, he is making phone calls and doing client-facing work. The 12:30 lunch appointment might be spent with a client to discuss an open case or simply for the sake of building rapport and finding out what is going on in their life. Additionally, setting time constraints for completing tasks can help advisors become more motivated to work toward completing those assignments. Rather than bouncing back and forth between several task every couple of minutes, Ong blocks 20 minutes for an assignment before moving on to the next one or taking a brief break.

“A timetable will help you be more disciplined, and by following a schedule you will be more productive,” Ong said. 

Work with technology

Before the pandemic, Ong took a cue from the “highfliers” in his company to digitize client paperwork. By the time the lockdowns ensued, Ong had spent the previous two years digitizing documents, which made those records easier to track and retrieve. 

“If you find yourself spending more time on mundane tasks like data entry or sending newsletter emails or festive greetings, consider automation tools to help take repetitive work off your plate. This way you will have more time to focus on work that really matters. If you are a solo practitioner, at least hire an intern or part-timer to handle paperwork,” Ong said.

Go offline

Some of the biggest distractions come from emails, Zoom notifications, messaging apps and social media. If you don’t want disruptions, take yourself offline until you’ve accomplished the task at hand. Alternatively, you can use the Do Not Disturb function in your device settings. 

The power of single-tasking can help you develop a healthier work-life balance. It is proven that focusing on one task at a time results in higher productivity, lowers stress levels and makes you happier in the long run. 

Tanichka Achan writes for Team Lewis, a communications agency assisting MDRT with content development for Asia-Pacific markets. Contact mdrteditorial@teamlewis.com.