If you live by lists, spend your time jumping from one obligation to another, check your phone constantly for updates and messages, then you are definitely not alone. But if you pride yourself on, or merely identify as, being a Multi-Tasker then I have some bad news for you. Multi-tasking is, quite simply, a lie.
Multi-tasking does not correlate with higher productivity. The key issue is focus. Focus is the essential ingredient for stunning results. If you're aiming for mediocre, just scrape by, that'll do, results then stop reading and keep multi-tasking. You're on the right track. However, If your ambitions stretch a little, or a whole lot, further than that, spend a few minutes with me here and I think I can point you to some simple tools that might help you on your way.
Listen, I know we can all do mundane boring tasks like fold laundry and watch TV at the same time. That's not what we're talking about here. If you have a goal (and if you're still looking for your focus check out one of my earlier posts, "Why the Hell Not?!", for some resources on this) or a specific project at work, then you will have identified 'work blocks' that need to be completed to achieve that goal or complete that work project. Here's the thing - If you decided to spend say 4 hours daily on that goal or project, and you were to do so as a multi-tasker, your results would be far far below the results of a "single-tasker".
The truth is, in a world of distraction, single-tasking is a SUPERPOWER!
If you multi-task you sacrifice results. Every interruption or change in focus costs you. It costs you not only the actual time you spend on the interruption/focus change subject matter, but also the additional time it takes to re-focus. Re-focus time can range from 25% of the interruption time, when you're involved in less complex tasks, up to a whopping 100% for the very complicated tasks. That's quite a toll! Research undertaken by New York Times reporter Matt Richtel back in 2009 for his Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles, "Driven to Distraction" revealed that, even an idle cell phone conversation when driving can reduce your focus by 40% and can have the same effect as driving drunk! Multi-tasking is a lie.
Today's office environments are probably the biggest offenders in this regard. This forced multi-tasking environment, of constant interruptions with e-mail and non-essential meetings, just kills productivity. Some know this and have turned the workplace environment on its head. The Y-Combinator co-founder Paul Graham differentiates between the time-blocking necessary for creative work and the shorter, more flexible, time scheduling needed for management in his 2009 essay, "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule". In short he advocates large blocks of uninterrupted time to do the create/make work and shorter time blocks, typically no more than an hour, for the management tasks typically characterized by meetings. At Y Combinator this has translated into a culture where create/make work is prioritized. All meetings are at the end of the work day. Fast Company has called Y Combinator, "the world's most powerful start-up incubator" and Fortune has described it as, "a spawning ground for emerging tech giants." So, lets take it that these guys know what works!
So, what are a few things you could start to do today to, productively, Do Less?
1. Become a Single-Tasker and Time-Block
There are lots of ways this can be done, depending on your individual responsibilities. As women we often have both childcare and professional demands on our time so it's not a one-size fits all approach. Take a creative approach as necessary, while respecting the principles. Take care of the noise in the first hour of your day and then begin your Time-block. Phone on silent. No social media. Just you and the ONE thing you are working on. Nothing else. Great success shows up when you devote time every day to becoming great. Graham Bell said, "Concentrate all you thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus."
Personally I now time-block up to 4 hours on the weekdays when my 3 children are at school. After I drop them off I do between 30 minutes and an hour of admin to make sure I don't totally drop the ball on anything major - which obviously includes my mother commitments.
2. Accept Chaos
Yes, this type of focus means that other stuff won't get done. You have to develop a way of being comfortable with that. Everyone has the same 24 hours in every day. It's what you do with them that counts. If the laundry is piling up, that's OK. If the floors aren't sparkling, that's fine too. Do you want to achieve mediocre results but have a clean house/attend every social event you're invited to/[insert your favorite personal Time Drain here] ? These things aren't accomplishments. Decide if you're a passenger in your life or the navigator of your life.
I'm lucky enough to have someone who cleans my house for me once a week but, on a daily basis, if I haven't gotten to clear up after breakfast or put on a load of laundry during my morning admin time, it stays undone until my Time-block is complete. Be disciplined. Protect the Time-block always.
3 . Work Smarter - Tools and Systems
What are the tools and systems you could put in place to accomplish more in your Time-blocks? The most successful and productive people on the planet do not stop once they reach the limits of their natural talents. When they hit a ceiling they just look for new approaches, tools and systems to break through. They look for mentors and coaches and look to see how others have addressed and overcome similar challenges. It takes adopting a purposeful approach. It takes believing, always, that the task can be achieved, that you can do it and that you just need to adopt a new approach. Get resourceful!
If we want to live extraordinary lives, and achieve our goals, we need to become the best bosses ever.....to ourselves.
Leonardo Da Vinci did some pretty incredible work, I think we'd all agree. He said:
"You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than over yourself...the height of a man's success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment."
So Do LESS! Be a single-tasker. You must choose what matters most and give it all the time it needs. Try it. I don't think you'll look back.
About the Author
Eimear Zone is an entrepreneur and co-founder of feminist brand and social enterprise, PEBBLE + ROSE. She writes on feminism, entrepreneurship, and mindset management. She can be contacted at email@example.com and IG @emtczone
Some resources to check out
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results - Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - Greg McKeown
Here's a link to some free resources from Keller for:
Building Habits: https://goo.gl/tUv0Gm
Increasing Willpower: https://goo.gl/cskL6w