Want to get more done in less time? Quit multitasking

Counterintuitive as it might seem, taking more frequent breaks helps too, says Jill Konrath, author of a new book on productivity.

Want to get more done in less time? Quit multitasking

If you’re not a salesperson, it would be easy to skip a book called More Sales, Less Time: Surprisingly Simple Strategies for Today’s Crazy-Busy Sellers. But if you’re searching for a new job in any field, or hoping to accomplish more in the role you’ve already got, it’s worth a close look.

That’s because author Jill Konrath, a veteran sales trainer and consultant, has pulled together the latest research on how our brains work, and it applies to everyone. One study, for instance, shows that multitasking—like reacting to texts and emails while trying to string two or three coherent thoughts together—actually lowers people’s IQ. Who needs that?

Konrath’s strategy says success starts with how you organize your many, many tasks.

“Turn off notifications on your phone and computer, so you’re not constantly bombarded with beeps and dings,” she suggests. “Then schedule times to check email and messages when you can focus on them.”

Monster recently talked with Konrath about other ways you can use her sales-productivity techniques to find the right job faster.

Q. You explain in the book how grouping similar tasks together can make salespeople more productive. Could it work for job hunters, too?

A. Absolutely. It’s a question of sharpening your mental focus. Instead of bouncing around, from researching company web sites to working on your resume to checking email, set aside a block of time to concentrate on just one type of activity at a time.

You can even try scheduling phone screenings and in-person interviews for the same day. I know one young woman who did eight interviews—that is, several phone conversations and three meetings with prospective employers—all on one day. This works because, after the first two or three, you get better at it. You get on a roll, or “in the zone” as some people call it, so you’re really at your best.

Q. What about the approach you call the “up-your-ante experiment”?

A. Yes! The best salespeople do this with prospective clients, but the principle is the same if you’re looking for a new job.

First, identify a list of companies you’d like to work for, and rank them in order of your preference. Research each one, with an eye toward what’s happening in their business, interesting trends in their industry and what they might be looking for.

Then, start at the bottom of the list, and apply for a job with the employer you care least about. The reason is that job interviewing, like sales, takes practice. You’re likely to make some mistakes early on—almost everyone does—so, instead of going after your No. 1 choice right away, work out any potential glitches in meetings with the ones that matter less to you.  

After each interview, do what successful salespeople do, which is think about three questions: What questions was I asked? Where did I struggle with the answers? And what do I need to do better next time? By the time you get to the top of your list of companies, you’ll be ready.

Q. The research you gathered for the book says that people function better when they take more breaks. Why is that?

A. Humans have built-in “on” and “off” periods, and we need to learn to work with our natural rhythms, not fight them as so many of us do. We’re at our most productive if we take a 17-minute break every 52 minutes.

But, to get the full benefit, try to avoid using those 17 minutes to check your email or do anything work-related. Instead, get up and walk around, talk with a friend, even take a catnap.

The nice thing is studies show that the most effective way to recharge your brain is to do something you actually enjoy. I’d suggest that everyone try this for just a day, and see how it improves your productivity—and, if you like it, do it again tomorrow.

Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics for Fortune and other publications since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?