A few years back, everyone got really excited about “multitasking,” the idea that people could work on more than one task at a time. That was a big fat lie. People can’t really do two (or more) things at once; the best we can do is switch between two tasks really quickly, and all that does is make us inefficient and sloppy at both tasks.
Lawyers know this. Many lawyers justify a .2hr minimum billing increment, in part, because of the time it takes to switch between tasks. The more interruptions we allow in our day, the more time we waste switching gears. And yet, we allow so many interruptions.
So stop trying to multitask, and eliminate as many interruptions as you can. Think of your work day in chunks of time. I try to sit down in the morning and schedule my day. I rarely answer email immediately or pick up the phone when it rings; instead, I try to check and respond to email in between tasks, and I set aside a chunk of time in the afternoon to return phone calls.
Mostly, I just try not to think in terms of multitasking. Instead, I try to work on one task until I finish it, and then I move on to the next one. Sure, I don’t multitask, but in the end, I get more done, and do a better job on the tasks I complete.