The inimitable Willy Wonka said it best: "Time is a precious thing – never waste it."
If only people had more of it to spare. As a business owner, it can be difficult to fit everything inside of 24 hours without compromising your social, physical or emotional well-being. In fact, over 60 percent of Americans in a Gallup poll said they generally don't have enough time to accomplish everything they want. Unsurprisingly, hectic schedules are particularly commonplace for people with children, the survey found.
How do people get tasks done? Multitasking serves as one strategy. The problem with doing things simultaneously, according to opponents, is the final product suffers. In other words, because your collective energies are spread too thin, jobs may get finished, but often at a caliber that leaves something to be desired.
However, by getting a better understanding of how the brain works, effective multitasking is possible. Here are a few helpful tips from an expert who knows:
1. Create a to-do list
Putting tasks down on paper ensures that at the very least, you're mindful of what needs to be accomplished. It's not enough to write them out, though. They should be prioritized in order of importance, advised Art Markman, cognitive psychologist and author of the book "Smart Thinking." Speaking to Entrepreneur, Markman said these lists should be posted somewhere noticeable and ranked, the top ones getting the most attention.
"In a very real sense, the squeaky wheel gets the grease," Markman explained.
2. Think smarter, not harder
All too often, people equate not getting everything done with not working hard enough. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Markman. Writing in Fast Company, Markman said the key to multitasking effectively derives from rewiring your working memory, which refers to how much information your brain processes at once.
But instead of expanding your working memory for a particular task, Markman advised, you have to strip away from it. This is made possible by not overthinking and recognizing how the body reacts to habits.
"If you're an experienced driver, then merely sitting in the car helps your brain automatically retrieve the habits related to pressing the gas and brake pedals," Markman said. "You don't need to seriously tax your your working memory in order to do that."
The trick is getting to a point where certain tasks are so habitual, you don't need to even think about it in order to get it done. This frees up the brain to focus on tasks that do require more thought.
"The context summons the action, which your brain performs more or less automatically, Markman wrote. "That means that if you're in an environment that demands a certain amount of multitasking, you want to look for elements of the task that can be converted into habits in that context."
Mastering these habits hinges on practicing them over and over again so they become second nature.
3. Make better use of downtime
It's said that it takes thousands of hours of regular study and use of a foreign language to achieve fluency. This is mainly due to the fact that the brain thrives with repetition. If you've recently read something that's new and important to digest, take advantage of any spare moments you have – rare though they may be – to review the material again, whether it's by skimming the document on an exercise bike or seeing if you can summarize it orally to a friend or yourself. Markman told Entrepreneur that these downtime strategies help to train the brain to better process and retain new information.
The brain can hold vast amounts of information and develop new skills. While the notion that people only use 10 percent of its capacity is a myth, the brain does contain over 100 billion neurons that are constantly firing. Mental exercises and intellectually stimulating activity help to keep the brain sharp and can fine tune your multitasking capabilities.