For years I have believed that multi-tasking was the way forward. I prided myself on being able to do lots of different things throughout the day and was sure that I was therefore being really productive.
From time to time that worked but when I really took a long hard look at what I was actually achieving each day I had little to show for my hard work.
The multi-tasker in me started back in the days when I was working in an IT environment. There was so much to do and so little time to get it done that you were expected to essentially multi-task your way through the day. I was also a busy mum with two young kids at the time so quite often you would find me working online in my home office trying to write a computer programme whilst having dinner cooking for the kids and watching them while they played.
Now as a self-employed business owner I understand that multi-tasking actually doesn’t work at all!
I keep a journal and on the last day of the year, Saturday 31st December 2016, I sat down to read through it like I do each year. I noticed how I would write down my intentions and the goals I wanted to achieve. I then noticed my distinct lack of focus throughout most of the year. My lack of disciplined action towards those goals.
It was only in the latter stages of 2016 that I realised multi-tasking and task-switching wasn’t working.
Did you know that each time you switch from one task to another that you actually lose 10 minutes? It takes your brain around 10 minutes to get into the task you are currently working on, so if you keep switching between tasks you are losing a lot of time each day.
I discovered that the optimum way to get stuff done was to do ONE thing at a time. It sounds really simple but it takes discipline!
I sat down towards the end of November last year and made a list of the things I would like to complete by the end of December and then I made a list of the things I wanted to get done for January-March 2017. I have learned over the years that if I plan too far ahead then I lose motivation. 2-3 months seems to be the optimum time frame for me when goal setting.
I prioritised the list and created mini-projects for each goal. Within each project I created tasks and then put them in my diary. I began to realise that if I did not schedule the tasks then they simply wouldn’t get done.
The first day was hard! I had decided to work on my new 30 Day Mind Diet programme and only that for the whole day. I knew that I also had other tasks in my list for other projects and that there would be interruptions from social media, emails and texts but I wanted to really focus on getting my set tasks done.
The interruptions were the worst bit – the temptation to stop working and check Facebook notifications or emails was tough! I had to actually turn off the sound on my phone and put it out of sight so I couldn’t see the flashing notification light.
As I wrote my new programme I kept having flashes of creativity and other ideas and the temptation to go and do something about those was over-powering as well. I had to rein myself in and simply write down any thoughts with the promise that I would look at them later.
I, thankfully, had the foresight in my daily planning to allow myself some breaks and some “switching” time. What I mean by that is that I scheduled in the time during my lunch break to check my social media, my emails and my texts. I gave myself permission to do that so that I wouldn’t sit wondering about them all afternoon!
What I found the hardest was to not immediately jump on to something that had come in by email or text. I had a few client enquiries by email so normally I would have dropped everything and got straight back to them. I decided that today would be different. I noted down the people I needed to get back to and I added a task to the end of my day – reply to client emails. I then got back to my original plan.
By the end of the first day of “single tasking” I had almost completed my entire programme. I was ecstatic and it really hammered it home to me that by focusing on one thing at a time you really can get a lot done. The feeling of satisfaction the next day when I finished the tasks on that project was amazing!
By waiting to the end of the day before replying to all the client emails meant that I was able to consolidate the time into half an hour and I answered everyone during this time. If I had stopped working and replied to each email as it came in I would have lost about 50 minutes of time!
So the art of getting stuff done is really simple – be disciplined. Stick to the task at hand until you complete it. If it will take several days to complete then break the task into smaller steps and schedule time for those in your diary.
Schedule time for social media, emails and text checking and at all other times turn off the notifications or remove the phone from your desk to help eliminate temptation.
If you have a mountain of tasks to do then start with the lowest hanging fruit. Get the quick stuff off your list first to give you a sense of achievement. That feeling of satisfaction when you tick things off your list really is a great motivator. Sometimes the lowest hanging fruit is also something you have been putting off for a while – if it needs done then get it done!
Schedule time for planning. If your tasks are not in your schedule then they simply won’t get done. You need to discipline yourself to diary things and then tackle them. Only you can do this – you know you are capable!
When tempted to try and multi-task or switch between tasks, remind yourself that you are losing 10 minutes of time each time you do that. So if you task switch 6 times in a day then you have lost an hour!
Ask yourself where you lose most of your time – for me it was switching between links on the web. I would be working on research for a new health programme and suddenly see a link to another site or another programme and I would then be watching a webinar and signing up for free training for something. Before I knew it 3 hours had passed and not a single bit of writing had been done for my own programme. Not good. I also know that I am still a bit of a slave to the Facebook notification light – I am working on that one!
If you need help in prioritising your tasks or if you would like help simply getting into the right mindset about moving from multi-tasking to single-tasking then please do get in touch!
I would love to hear from you – what works for you when you are working on achieving your goals? Where do you procrastinate or lose time? Is there anything I can maybe help you with?
Let me know what goals you are setting for the first few months of 2017 and what steps you have taken so far!