Multitasking is dead, the new buzzword is ‘focus’. Focus on productivity, creativity, and quality! The power of focus is simply this: When you understand what you really want, you find you can accomplish anything with little to no distraction. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, but when managed properly, focus can catapult your life and career up to the next levels.
What Matters Most
The first step in changing your focus is to step back (or sit down, as you prefer), and spend a bit of time determining what your highest priorities are, and how they rank. A good place to start would be to list out your weekly and monthly responsibilities, and the tasks you must complete to meet them. Ensure you are looking at both the big picture and the minutia, as often ‘the devil is in the details!’
While you are reviewing these lists, it is also a great time to start thinking about what you can delegate, and what is best kept in your hands. A good rule of thumb here is, ‘If someone does it better, let them!’
Outline Your Core Goals
Now that you have started to narrow your priorities, and determine key tasks, we’re going to suggest you take a further step back, and spend a few minutes focusing on your goals. Ask yourself where you want to be professionally and personally in 1, 3 and 5 years, and wrestle those goals into a list from highest to lowest priorities (I know it isn’t easy, but it really could be the most important thing you do this year.) Next, compare your goals with the lists of priorities and weekly tasks you created earlier. Look for common threads, and give another thought to what you can delegate.
Find Your Simplicity: Limit Multitasking
Multitasking is a misnomer. In most situations, the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching. *
Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interactions Lab released a study in 2013 which proved something many of us suspected all along, “if you do two things at once, both efforts suffer.”* Office workers are interrupted…roughly every three minutes, academic studies have found, with numerous distractions coming in both digital and human forms. Univ. of California, Irvine’s Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction, indicates that once interrupted, it can be up to 23 minutes before one returns to the original task. Performance, of both complex and simple tasks inherently suffers from distractions and interruptions.
Block Scheduling is Focus Scheduling
To do your best work, you need to start blocking out distractions, and claiming significant blocks of time to work focused on one important task at a time. Depending on the task, plan your week in terms of 60-120 minute blocks, with 15-30 minutes of break and/or unstructured time between the longer ‘work blocks.’ During the longer blocks you will not answer the phone, read e-mails, or reply to instant messages. Instead you will allow yourself to focus on the one task at hand, giving yourself the leisure to do your absolute best work. Use the unstructured time blocks to reply to messages, update your calendar, and prepare for your next focused work block; do not allow these tasks to run your day, they have to happen ‘around’ your day, to facilitate it, instead of hamper it.
Work Slower, Speed Doesn’t Equal Quality
Everyone works differently, but overall, the moral of Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare still holds true: “Slow and steady wins the race.” When you eliminate distractions, and schedule an adequate block of time for each task, you are able to let the task dictate the speed you work at, which will allow your creativity to flow, and ultimately yield your best output.
Find Your Creative Break Zones, walking, hiking, exercise, the ocean, a trip, etc.
The harder you work, the more need there is to decompress. A creative break zone, is a place or activity that helps you relax, recharge your creative energies, and have a bit of fun. Getting out of your office, and onto a beach, a wooded path, or a quiet garden will do it for some. For others it’s not the setting that is important, but a change in activity they need; for them their zones will be a sport or activity, or even destination travel. For the big picture, take time off, whether stay-cation or vacation. You need it, you have to. Just do it. Day-to-day, learn to recognize when you are approaching your limits (or when you are stuck in making a decision). Take a break, a walk, meditate… whatever works. The you that you deliver back to your desk will be much more ready to do their best work, for having stepped away at the right time.
Do Nothing. Having Down Time Will Deliver High Results During Your Up Time
I cannot stress enough how important it is, no matter how ambitious you are, that you do NOT schedule every minute of every day. If you want to do your best work, you need to bring your best self to work each morning. Harvard Business Review reported on an experiment which clearly indicated that “Forcing employees to take days, nights, or extended periods of time off actually increased productivity.”** Yes, there are times when you need to go-go-go, but day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out it is just not sustainable. Not only your production, but your creativity, quality, and physical health will suffer.
Leave early once in a while. Take a vacation day for no specific reason at all. Travel. Paint, play the guitar, go for a walk, take that special someone out to dinner… Whatever it is that helps you relax, puts a smile on your face, and a bit of extra spring in your step as you head back into your office; THAT is sometimes the most important thing you need to do to take your life and career on to the next level.
* – Sullivan & Thompson, NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/opinion/sunday/afocus-on-distraction.html?_r=1
** – Coleman & Coleman, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2012/12/the-upside-ofdowntime