... AND HOW TO ACTUALLY DO IT!
Multi-tasking is over-rated. Not only that, science has demonstrated that it's actually bad for our health and for our productivity. We often think that juggling multiple tasks at once achieves more, makes us more efficient and is a sign of a truly effective working life. Truth is, it might not be as great as we think. So if like me you're constantly trying to manage at least three things at once, but ultimately keep finding you've got nothing done, then perhaps a new way of thinking will help us all to focus on the task in hand and actually get something finished - for once!
The problem that we have, especially in this modern day, is that we're constantly required to give our attention to many things at once. I'm sure it's something you can relate to? We think that we're spinning many plates but really we're just flitting from one task or thought to another on a superficial level and not getting down to actually moving forward or making any real progress. If we could just focus on one thing at a time and see it through the effect on our productivity, wellbeing and mindset would actually be greatly improved. In fact in our careers, becoming more single-minded with your time and how you spend it is a real competitive advantage.
So how do we reign in that over-active brain and get it to hone in on what needs to be done?
Here are a four things that I have learned and am trying to put into practice daily. They're helping me so I hope they help you if you're finding it hard to focus too.
FOUR WAYS TO FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME!
1. PRIORITISE: Yes I've written many a post about making a list I know but I still believe it's the best way to start your day. Working out everything that needs to be done and then working out what needs to be done first. The trick is to get everything down so that you can manage it into sizeable chunks and focus your attention. Don't let the list control you. Once it's done choose your first task and set the list aside. As wonderful as a to-do list can be, sometimes we can actually get so obsessed with what's on it, adding to it and trying to organise it, that we forget to start working on the tasks that we actually put on it!
2. TURN OFF OUTSIDE DISTRACTIONS: Phone OFF, Email OFF, TV OFF, Music OFF! Whatever pulls your attention away from the task in hand, switch it off, move away from it, create the space you need to get things done. Don't let yourself get interrupted. Set boundaries so that people know when you're available and when you're not. Allow yourself to become absorbed by what needs to be done and do it!
3. BLOCK CERTAIN TASKS TOGETHER: The aforementioned phone calls, emails and other communication based interruptions are of course all still very important, especially in your daily working life. So whilst you need to set them aside in order to focus, you still need to tackle them at some point during the day. This is when it helps to cluster such tasks together.
Set times and time limits throughout the day on which to give these tasks your attention. You may wish to spend 30-45 minutes on emails in the morning before you get started on the rest of your day. Then another cluster of time answering messages just after lunch. That's fine. Set your own boundaries and don't stray. When it's time to move away do so and make sure your brain comes with you! Try not to allow it to keep thinking about that last email you just read or phone call you just had. This can take time to get used to, but after a while it gets easier, especially if you've allocated time to come back and deal with any issues an hour or so down the line.
4. THINK: IS MY BRAIN HERE WITH ME? All of the above points may sound very useful but they're completely fruitless if you can't get your brain to stay with you and focus. Your body may be going through the motions of the job you're supposed to be working on, but your brain is most likely considering what you should do next, how you should answer your bosses email, what you need to organise for this afternoons meeting etc, etc.
It's hard to stop this wandering mind but it can be done with a little practice. First you have to recognise when it's straying. If you're in that meeting you set aside to talk through a colleagues questions on an upcoming project, are you really in that meeting or are you thinking about something else? Bring yourself back to the moment and keep doing so each and every time you float away!
Start your single-tasking journey in small chunks. If you're an avid multi-tasker you can't expect your brain to suddenly adapt to focusing hard on one single thing for a long period of time. It just won't happen. Instead break it down to more manageable time frames of around 15 minutes and build upon it. This is a slightly different example but I think I mentioned in my January making time to read post that I find it hard to focus on reading because of so many outside, online and in person distractions. So sitting down to read for an hour or two straight off the bat is just not going to happen for me. Smaller chunks are more achievable and before you know it, you've extended that and have started to find a much deeper focus.
So give the single tasking life a go! If you don't believe how good it can be I've picked out a couple of really useful articles shown below that may be interesting reads. Let me know if you have any top tricks for focusing on getting one thing done at a time and if you find it helpful to approach work and life this way? All advice very welcome, this is an ongoing challenge of mine!
Multi-tasking Damages Your Brain And Career - Forbes.com