Back in the day I used to take great pride in the fact that I could:
- Write a blog post
- Talk on the telephone
- Walk Henrietta (I was talented, right?)
- Cook dinner, and
- Fold the laundry
Yes. I could do it all! Sigh. The problem now is that I realized I didn’t do all of it to the best of my abilities.
Sure I could fold laundry while dinner was cooking aka burning. I could write a blog post while talking on the telephone but then my blogging didn’t get the full attention and neither did the person to whom I was talking. And truly, if someone calls you on the telephone don’t you want to think you have his or her undivided attention? I know that I do (now, that is).
What brought about my epiphany of only doing one task at a time? Plain and simple, breast cancer. Not seeing the connection? Let me explain. Prior to breast cancer I worked upwards of 16 hours a day, six days a week (andsometimes a few hours on Sunday). I missed family events because I was working. I was blogging, looking for new clients, designing websites, writing copy and sending press releases for clients, oh yeah and doing laundry and cooking dinner. Was I productive? I thought so. Hey I was working 16 hours a day, I must have been productive, right? Sadly, I found out that I had not been productive. I discovered that my multitasking was actually making me scatter my efforts and while I was working on myriad tasks at one time I wasn’t finishing them.
Once I was diagnosed and the rounds of oncologists and surgeries and ICU stays and recovery rolled around I had no energy. I was in pain. I was on pain medication, but I had a business to run. What was I going to do? I decided that in the limited amounts of time I had to work I had to be uber productive and focused. I did this by choosing one, and only one, task and working on it until completion. Completion was a fantastic feeling because by the time my energy was waning I had something to show for the time I’d worked rather than bits and pieces of multiple tasks but nothing that I could turn over to a client.
In my breast cancer support group — which I joined as soon as I was able to speak and breathe without crying, after I was diagnosed — the mantra was “live in the moment.” That was something I had rarely ever done. No matter what moment I was in I always wanted to know, “what’s next?” I realized that is a/was a horrible way to live my life. I thought back trying to remember what amazing moments I might have missed in my quest for “what’s next?”
Fast forward three years of being cancer-free and realizing that cancer-free doesn’t mean it won’t ever come back, it just means that for right now I am okay and for that I am grateful. For that I live in the moment.
How can you stop your multitasking, live in the moment and be more productive? Here are a few things you may want to try:
- Turn off email and social media update notifications. The world will not come screeching to a halt if you decide to devote 30, 60 or 90 minutes to a task without interruption. NOTE: I now no longer even check my email until 9 am. Gasp, I know! I wake up at 5 am, walk Hen, eat breakfast, read a newspaper, watch the Balancing Act and just chill before I get to work. By work, I mean, actual work. No email. No Facebook. No Pinterest. Work. I get a great two hours of work in before I even open my emails. Why do I do this? Mainly because reading emails first thing puts me into a reactive mode rather than allowing me to focus on my to-do list I feel I have to answer every email. Guess what? Waiting until 9 am (and I don’t even cheat and look on my phone at social media or email either!) hasn’t caused an issue with my clients and it has amped up my productivity.
- Work on your hardest tasks during your most productive mindset. For me, my most productive time is from 7 am to 9 am. and that is when I work on the tasks that take the most brain power. There are also times when I have a task that I am dreading and when that pops up, I do that during my most productive time. Why? Because finishing something that is weighing on my mind gives me a spring in my emotional step for the rest of the day.
- When you’re just starting out and trying to break the multitasking habit check out the Pomodoro method. What is it? It involves setting a timer for a specific amount of time, say 25 minutes, and then working on one (and only one) task at a time. Once the timer goes off you can determine whether you’re at a good stopping point and want to go onto the next task or if you’re so involved that you want to set the timer and continue on. How will you know whether the Pomodoro method is good for you? Do you have myriad tasks that need to be completed? Do you find yourself easily distracted? Do you work well under a “deadline”? Give it a try. I urge you to use an actual timer, not your cell phone timer.
Break those goals down into bite-sized (25 minute) chunks and write those down as specific to-dos. I’d love to hear whether this method works for you!