Many of us take pride in being busy, gosh I did for so long. Being a ‘great multi tasker’ was something that I wore like a badge of honor. We think if we cram more tasks into a limited amount of time that we will miraculously get more done. But does effective multitasking really exist? A lot of research suggests that we aren’t really doing several things at once, rather our brains are quickly switching between different tasks which results in lost productivity and added stress.
An unhelpful habit of mine is creating lists, meal plans, etc in my mind while doing something else. Does this sound familiar to you? Sitting in a work meeting with irrelevant (or disengaging) content and your mind starts to wander “what meals are we going to have next week? what needs to be added to the shopping list? Gosh I better renew the car registration… oh and I told mum I’d call her a few days ago”. Suddenly your attention is drawn back to the meeting and you have no idea what was said.
Or perhaps that above scenario doesn’t apply to you but you are guilty of scrolling through Facebook while eating lunch or mid conversation with a friend/family member/partner? Or you always start a task (or multiple tasks… on the same day) but never seem to fully complete any of them.
**phone ringing** as if on cue, my phone rang mid way through writing this post. There is nothing like a phone call to bring us out of a state of focus… right now to get back on track.
So I’m proposing if you want to get more done in less time, resulting is a sense of accomplishment and more time to enjoy the things you enjoy, try single tasking instead. Multi tasking can be a difficult task to break (hey I’m still learning myself) but just give it a go and see if it helps. And remember that when we focus on one task at a time, you apply more energy to that task, meaning that you are more likely to do a better job (win win). Here are a few things that I am (trying to) implementing
- Close the email program. I have two computer screens at work and admit that I often have my email program and internet browser open on one screen and the main software that I use at work open on the other screen. As a result the emails are always in my peripheral vision and I’m alerted as soon as an email whizzes in. However I notice that I get more done when I close the email program. Rarely are any emails so urgent that they need to be answered immediately and if I am needed asap then I am contactable on my phone.
- Get organised in advance by outlining your daily tasks. I keep an online calendar to record some day to day activities and to set future reminder but often for day to day tasks I write them down in a notebook or the back or a used envelope. It gives me the satisfaction of checking the tasks off as I complete them 🙂 (such a good feeling). Whether it be a diary, an app or a scribble on a sticky note, find something that works for you.
- Once you have your daily tasks written down, identify the most important task/s (regardless on how unpleasant they may seem) and aim to complete those tasks first. This is described in more details if you look up the concept of Big Rocks and Eat That Frog. This will prevent that all day procrastination as we do the less important but more enjoyable tasks first, leaving no time or energy to do that big unpleasant task.
- Avoid putting too many things on your ‘to do’ list. Try to limit your daily tasks to just a few things to avoid feeling guilty when you only accomplish 5 out of the 20 things that you listed. Its better to think ‘yay I got 5 things done’, rather than ‘I only did 5 things, I still have so much to do… I’m so busy’. If you have lots you want to accomplish, try spreading them out over the next few days/weeks. Chances are not all 20 things are urgent.
- Be present and mindfully bring your attention to what you are doing, from writing an important paper, to doing the dishes, eating a meal or playing with your kids. Being present has benefits similar to meditation and helps us to slow down and appreciate the moment.
I hope you find those suggestions helpful and that they help you to feel less busy and be more productive.
While writing this post I started to think about the perception of busyness and how it has changed for me over the past couple of years but rather then turning this post into an even longer one, stay tuned for another blog post in the coming weeks as I delve into this further.