Multi-tasking: Are you doing it right?

You're late to work (again), behind on a project, or can't remember the action points from the last meeting. If you're one of the roughly 10 million U.S. adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it can be a constant challenge to stay on task. Dr. Anthony Rostain, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, says you can get distracted by external stimuli like noise or internal stimuli like daydreaming. These different distractions require different coping strategies, he explains. From our friends at Health.com, here's how to pinpoint your weaknesses and 10 strategies for getting the job done.More from Health.com: 5 reasons you can't concentrate iStockphoto.com

(MoneyWatch) Juggling a lot at once these days? If you pride yourself on being a master of multi-tasking, you could be over-estimating how efficient you truly are. According to Dave Crenshaw, small business coach and author of "The Myth of Multitasking," most people aren't really "multi-tasking." Instead, they're doing what he calls "switch-tasking."

"Your brain isn't able to handle more than one task at a time. You're actually switching rapidly back and forth between tasks," says Crenshaw. The problem? Switch-tasking is a major waste of time. "Every time you switch, there is a transition period between one task to another. Things take longer, you make more mistakes and you increase your stress levels," says Crenshaw.

So how should you deal with busier than ever work days? Here's how Crenshaw says you can stop switch-tasking and start really making a dent in you To Do list today.

MoneyWatch: What should you tell your boss if he or she wants you to tackle various projects at once?

Dave Crenshaw: Ask your boss about a reasonable timeline. We need to move from a concept of "now" to "when." You have to make a decision about your schedule and when you have the time to do these things, and discuss this with your boss.

MW: Once you've set up this timeline, how do you deal with technological intrusions throughout the day?

DC: Technology is not the problem; it's our improper use of technology. The perfect example of that is most people leave their cell phone notification on. It beeps and buzzes at you every time a text message or email comes in. Every time that happens you incur a "switching cost."

MW: So how can we tame technology to avoid switching?

DC: A better way to do this is to turn those notifications off and then check your email regularly throughout the day. That way, you're checking the email and it's not checking you. Manually set the calendar on your phone and check your email at 9, noon and 4.

MW: What if your job doesn't allow you to check email only three times a day?

DC: If you can't wait that long, ask yourself how long you can wait. If it's an hour, that's far better than every minute. The point is that you're in control of when you check [not your computer or smartphone].

MW: Some people like listening to music while working. Is that switch-tasking?

DC: I make a distinction between "switch-tasking" and "background-tasking." Background-tasking is something mindless or mundane that is occurring in the background that doesn't require your attention, like working and having music play in the background. Starting the printer running a huge print job while you answer an email is another good example.

Are you a multi-tasker? Do you think it's helping or hurting your productivity?

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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