All of us want to produce meaningful, important work on a daily basis.
We strive to produce work which grows our businesses and ultimately generates revenue. I think most of us wake up in the morning with the intention of producing quality work.
Then life hits. The grind begins. Reality, as it were.
We all want to be productive, and we envision productivity as the results of our day’s work. However, most of us know that this is not the reality. But, there is hope for the production meaningful work. In fact, all that it takes is one small change.
This very small, very simple action alone can 2x your output. (at a minimum!)
It may seem overtly simple, but multitasking is the archenemy of meaningful work. It destroys our focus by splitting or attention between two or more places. What many don’t realize is that multitasking distracts us. Our focus is only able to be applied towards one task or area at a time. When you multitask, you are not accomplishing two or more tasks simultaneously, you are continuously splitting your attention amongst multiple areas.
As I have mentioned, our intentions were always to do that important work, move the needle, drive revenue, etc. But then the everyday “multitasking” distractions hit. They bog us down. Checking email as it rolls in, leaving Twitter open in a tab or window to be checked periodically (guilty of this one myself!), responding to text messages, glancing at your phone each time a new notification arrives, talking on the phone while performing other tasks, these are all examples of everyday “multitasking.” As the day goes on, that window of meaningful output becomes smaller and smaller, eventually being reduced to a handful of hours per day.
In a study from the University of California Irvine, researchers found that it took workers an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after being distracted.
Consider how often you are distracted during your typical workday by these actions which we think that we are multitasking. If you become distracted twice per hour (conservatively) that leaves a potential remainder of 13 minutes and 30 seconds for focused work per hour…
“People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”
(Results of a study which compared frequent multitaskers with non-multitaskers in work effectiveness. Conducted by Stanford University)
Have you ever had a moment where you really felt ‘in the zone’ while working? In this moment, time felt as if it was passing slowly. You weren’t being interrupted. Your focus was acute. And when you finally were interrupted and shaken out of this “work trance,” it felt as if you had gone through a time warp.
If you have experienced this before, think about what you were working on during this period, and more importantly, how you were working on it. I can tell you with confidence that the answer is most likely that you were working exclusively on one particular task or project. Not on several.
Would you believe that this state of extreme focus can be replicated on command?
However, the act of ceasing to multitask may be more challenging than you might guess.
Two confidants of multitasking, and likewise distraction, are convenience and instant gratification.
Both are prime byproducts of our digital culture. These impulses are born of the immediate availability of distractions which disguise themselves as important affairs which require our attention right now. In order to achieve the level of focus that you are wishing for, you will have to actively fend off these urges.
Killing the multitasking habit will not be easy. It will be challenging at first.
Doing so will mean not responding to emails as they come in. Not even reading emails as they come in. Not using multiple tabs while browsing. Not responding to text messages. Not checking notifications. Not talking on the phone while working. Not answering the phone. Not checking social media every 30 minutes (or more frequently).
Below is a list of actionable changes that you can apply to your every-day process. These safeguards against multitasking and distraction can be put in place immediately.
- Put your phone in airplane mode when it is time to focus.
- Leave your phone in a different room while working. – One of my favorites. This makes an immediate world of difference. If you’re like me, after a few minutes you will forget that you don’t have your phone with you and time will breeze by as you accomplish focused work.
- Turn off new email notifications. – (both on desktop and mobile)
- Batch-check email once, or twice daily. – This is scary for many at first, but if you inform colleagues and clients and get them on board with this change, you will find that your email volume will drop significantly. Suddenly, all of the buzzing “noise” emails will shed away. As for those “critical” emails, how critical are they really? Will life (and business) go on if you read and respond to them at 3pm rather than at 10am?
- Batch check social media once daily. – On top of that, set a time limit. This will help you avoid “the Facebook trap” where minutes (hours, days?) drain away as you are hypnotized by one cat video after another. The same applies to Twitter and Instagram feed scrolling, Snapchat, etc. While these are healthy in small, concentrated doses, they can easily become wasteful and unproductive in large-increments.
- Schedule your day from start to finish. – This is amazing for productivity. If there is one thing that leads to distraction and time waste, it is not establishing a set time for each task in your day. Lack of a pre-determined schedule leaves the door open for nonsense busywork to enter your day. In addition, without a time limit, tasks will naturally require more time to complete than necessary. I could write an entire post on this point alone. Time limits, or deadlines, are incredibly effective at motivating us to accomplish tasks quicker. They create a sense of urgency which translates to focus. For myself, blocks of 1-2 hours per task, depending on the size and nature of the task, seems to be most effective.
- Turn off notifications for all but a select 3 – 4 apps.
- Start using a “read later” app like Pocket or Instapaper, if you are not already. – We all encounter relevant and interesting articles throughout our day, and these are great. Constant learning and knowledge-building is important. However, it is best to avoid spending time away from meaningful work to read these articles right when we encounter them. Instead, save them to your read later list. I personally use any downtime that I get to attack my read later list, rather than scrolling a social feed.
- Make use of a web or browser blocking app. – Browser and we blocking apps can be used to limit your internet access during certain time windows to sites and sources that you specify. These can be very helpful if you lack the self-discipline to stay away from distraction sites(social. news, etc) when you should be working. StayFocused and SelfControl are both good options.
To really put these principles into practice, and see tangible results in your work, I want to challenge you: Select 3 – 4 items from this list to apply to your work process. Stick with the changes for one full week. At the end of 7 days, take a look back and analyse your results.
If there is one thing that I want to leave you with, it is that contrary to popular belief, multitasking is not a tool for helping you get more done. It is directly harmful to productivity. The simple act of cutting it out of your workday and breaking the distraction habit will allow you to accomplish more in a few hours than you normally would in one, even two days of distracted work.
Continue the conversation
If you take the challenge, I would love to hear about your results!
Got any productivity tricks or practices of your own? I would love to hear. I am always searching for new ways to increase my output.
Likewise, if you have any feedback or input on this post, please share! Feel free to start a conversation on Twitter or send me an email. I would love to chat!
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