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NNBW Editor: Five ideas to attack multitasking in the age of COVID (Voices)

Kevin MacMillan

kmacmillan@nevadanewsgroup.com

Kevin MacMillan is editor of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.
File photo

As the coronavirus pandemic rambles on and continues to bestow uncertainty for many a working professional, one thing I’ve been focusing on more and more these past few zany months is the fine art of multitasking.

The ability to be flexible, productive and efficient has never been more top of mind as we bounce back and forth from a work-from-home mindset to virtual calls to in-person meetings, brainstorming sessions and in-office work.

For those of you feeling the struggle of balancing several projects at once, I hear you!

In addition to my role as NNBW editor, I assist with editorial production on various publications, such as the monthly Nevada Rancher Magazine, produced by our team in Winnemucca; the twice-annual Peak NV magazine, supported by our Carson City crew; and the next edition of the Carson Valley Business Directory & Relocation Guide, which I’m currently working on in conjunction with our Minden-Gardnerville colleagues and chamber partners, to name a few.

It can be a lot to juggle. And let me tell you — it’s certainly not easy shifting gears seamlessly from editing a story about commercial real estate in Reno-Sparks to helping file content about cattle grazing in rural Nevada.

For so many industries in the region, working 10- to 12-hour days has become commonplace, and when you couple the need to work long hours at an efficient pace with the need to balance several projects, some days are more daunting than others.

After working hard to complete a project, there’s often little time to celebrate, because the next project is always waiting — and those daily and weekly deadlines never budge.

Yet, it can be a major challenge to hard pivot from one project to another while keeping the wheels of efficiency constantly whirling.

So, how to adapt? While it might work for some people, I try more and more to avoid taking what I call a “connected mental break.”

Say you decide to take a 5-minute break at your desk to check on local news and social media. Before you know it, that 5 minutes it took to read a few stories turns into 15 minutes of YouTube videos … and then right as you’re about to log off, you see an alert that someone commented on your Facebook post from two days ago … and then, suddenly, the group text with your friends or colleagues starts blowing up your phone … and then…

Well, you get the picture.

As these tumultuous weeks have progressed, more and more I’ve forced myself to balance time between major projects by finding therapeutic ways to disconnect.

Here are five ideas to consider that, if even for only a few minutes, might do the trick to get your brain trained for that next big endeavor:

  1. Write down a list: Obviously, there are countless examples of project management tools and apps out there to help efficiently track one’s workday. But for me, a good old-fashioned steno book is my best friend. Write down tasks that must, should and could be accomplished, and go about your day. The simple act off crossing off on item on your list can be sweet and satisfying.
  2. Take a walk: Even if it’s just around the block from your office, or from your home — move away from your desk, get some sunshine (and the important Vitamin D that comes with it) and beat feet for a bit. Not only can a brisk walk clear your head, but a little extra exercise certainly won’t hurt anybody.
  3. Can’t take a walk? Do the dishes: Like many people, I’m still learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to a proper WFH lifestyle. Hint: There’s no perfect way. But, I find that even taking a few-minute break to empty the dishwasher — or heck, vacuum the living room — is a solid way to disconnect and transition myself to the next task at hand.
  4. Flip your phone over: If I’m knee-deep in a project, it’s amazing how much time and energy can be lost by the distraction of a simple text or push alert popping up on my phone. Unless I’m expecting a call or important notification, I’ll often put my phone on silent and turn it over so I can’t be distracted by an alert. It’s a tiny thing, but can yield huge dividends in terms of productivity.
  5. And, speaking of phones, sometimes there shouldn’t be an app for that: Committing to a hard disconnect from work “after hours” is absolutely crucial. Over the years, I’ve learned this the hard way by all-too often putting work before my social life. It really is important to strike a proper work-life-balance, and one of the easiest ways to do this (if your work environment allows it, of course), is to delete certain apps from your smartphone. Whether through Zoom, Slack, Outlook or any other work-related program, there’s nothing worse than settling down for dinner and your phone goes off with an email or message that can — and should — wait until the next day.

It’s important to note that, while some of these ideas might be no-brainers for me, they are likely impossible, even laughable, for others. And that’s OK! To each their own.

We’ve often heard during this pandemic that “we’re all in this together” — when it comes to figuring out how to be our most productive WFH selves, nothing could be truer.

Kevin MacMillan is editor of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. Email him at kmacmillan@nevadanewsgroup.com