One trend which has gained a lot of traction over the past few years is the idea of working smarter, not harder. Businesses have started embracing this idea, and it’s difficult to go a day without hearing the phrase mentioned somewhere. The idea of working smarter not harder is great, but the execution of this is seldom observed.

I’ve found that the phrase can sometimes have a negative connotation surrounding it, regarding taking shortcuts to complete work quicker. In reality, the idea of working smarter not harder means to utilise your time and skillset in a way which makes your work more efficient. There’s lots of ways to work smarter, but here is one simple way to increase your productivity while not exerting more effort.

Stop Multitasking!

It amazes me how regularly a candidate will emphasise multitasking as one of their best strengths, or how clients want someone who has excellent multitasking skills. The idea that multitasking should be something we strive for is wrong as it actually decreases our productivity. If you want your organisation to have greater productivity, one of the easiest way to achieve this is stop your employees from multitasking.

Psychological research has examined the negative effects of switching between tasks. Every time a person changes from one task to another, two things happen. First, the switch results in a loss of time. Whenever someone switches between tasks, the brain takes time to process the requirements of this new task. Similarly, whenever we switch, we lose attention to detail, as the brain struggles to fully comprehend the requirements of the new task. Therefore, we are typically slower and less accurate when completing more than one task at a time.

Don’t believe me? Try this task below:

I want you to time yourself. See how quickly you can read all of the numbers in order, followed by all of the letters in order. Remember your time once you complete it and work as fast as you can.

Ready… Set… Go.


7           5            1             9            8             3             6            2             9             5             2            1             9

A           T           U            I              B            G            H            E             M           L             N            P            C


I want you to time yourself again and work as quickly as you can. However, this time, instead of reading all of the numbers first followed by all of the letters, read a number followed by the letter below it before moving on to the next number. For example: 7, A, 5, T.

Ready… Set… Go.


2          5             4             9           1             8             7             3             6            9            5             1            8

T          N            P            R            B            C            Z             W           U            M           H            G            S


How did you go? I would be very surprised if your second time was the same as your first time. On average, people perform over one second slower when they have to switch between numbers and letters. Very few people will have greater performance when switching between tasks. If your time was quicker in the second block, congratulations, you may be in the 2% of people that can multitask efficiently. That’s right, approximately just 2% of people can multitask effectively. For the rest of us, focussing on more than one task at a time leads to a loss of time and attention. This in turn decreases our productivity, leading to slower and more error prone work.

One of the most effective ways to work smarter not harder is to stop multitasking. Focus on one task at a time and complete it without being distracted by another. Some studies show that this can even increase productivity by up to 40%.

Everyone loves saying the phrase, work smarter not harder. Removing multitasking as part of your behaviour is a simple way to work to a high standard while minimising wasted effort and increasing productivity.

If you want to learn more ways that Optimum can assist you in creating a productive and agile workforce, please get in touch.

Daniel Cosgrove – Consultant

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