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Top tips: how to..... multi-task

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The problem with the concept of 'multi-tasking' is that it suggests that doing more than one thing at once is a desirable workplace skill. This is a misconception.

Good time-management skills can make us more productive, and this involves prioritising and doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking doesn't mean muddling through.

However, working in a council can be so pressurised, and the demands so urgent, that time management can look very much like multi-tasking. The trick is to be ruthless about what you do and when you do it.

And remember that it is not physically or mentally possible to do more than one thing at once but if you get organised, you will function extremely effectively.

  • Take control before you start. If you have an important task, spend an hour on this before you check calls or emails when you get into work. That way, you will get ahead on a long-term priority, rather than instantly going into fire-fighting mode.

  • Delegate. Your staff want more responsibility; you need more time. The answer is to invest time now, delegating specific projects in a clear, structured way, so that you will save time in future. This is not the same as dumping late-running tasks on demoralised colleagues at the last minute.

  • Limit email checking. There is no rule which says that all emails have to have an immediate response. Check your messages two or three times a day, and respond then.

  • Organise your information. Use bookmarking services like del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us) to keep track of useful websites. Save everything in one place, and avoid having random notes scattered about your desk.

  • Be realistic about time. One of the greatest stressors at work is feeling that you must get everything done at high speed. Some tasks will require more time, and you need to think them through.

  • Get physical. No matter how dynamic you are, there is no point slaving at your desk or in meetings all day. Whenever possible, make time for a lunch-time walk or exercise.

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