P.S. – I’m just as bad at it as you are. Let me illustrate…
I sit down to write this post. Scroll through my email to find the reminder email I sent myself with research on the topic. Catch an email from my co-worker. Start working on a response to her, open up files to find an answer to her question. Find the file. Open. Ok, let’s get back to prepping to write. Back to my inbox. Where is that email? Here it is. Oh, wait that’s interesting. Click. Up pops another window. It’s only a 2 minute video, I think I’ll watch that. Hmm, interesting, but not helpful. Focus. Back to what I was doing. Reading…what? My boss is texting me. Gotta respond. Ok, minor issue averted. Focus! Reading…interesting, that would make a great post on our LinkedIn page. Open LinkedIn.com. Write post. Oh, that document would probably be in my account settings here. I should download it…why isn’t it straight forward?! Help page…searching…found the help article. Ok, navigate…found it! Save. Now where was I…FOCUS!
30 minutes gone. Just like that, I have a new unfinished task with a half-baked email response, a paragraph or two read for research, a useless YouTube video watched, and a help page searched during my prime writing time. Sound familiar?
For years we’ve believed that multi-tasking is a real thing. That it actually exists. But it doesn’t. It’s a myth. There are plenty of people out there who are smarter than me (than I?) but I don’t think our brains are wired to truly hold and produce two tasks at the same time. Meanwhile, the scenario above isn’t even multi-tasking, it’s just task-switching or mental juggling. Yet, there’s a huge cost. Henry Ford knew the cost of task-switching when he invented the assembly line, nevertheless psychologists have confirmed what we should already know.
How then do we overcome the temptation to multi-task and task-switch? Harvard Business Review has a great article with a few tips on how to reduce distractions while you’re working and increase your productivity.
Here’s my digest of the top three lessons we could all use:
Lesson 1: Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is becoming more popular among the younger workforce. It can be done anywhere, anytime and always has a positive effect, even if minor. Many tout meditation or breathing. They’re good but I prefer an active mindfulness: reflection.
Mindfulness is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. If you want to be a better volleyball player you can’t just go to the gym and run on the treadmill, lift a few weights, and call it quits for the day. You need to practice the specific skills that support the goal: practicing volleyball skills. It’s the same with mindfulness.
Say you’ve just had a complex meeting, decisions were made, conflicts were resolved, and a new strategy is set in place. Great. On to the next meeting. Wait! This is your opportunity. Stop, pause and reflect on the meeting, the discussions, decisions, conflict, and resolution. Reflection helps you further absorb the discussions and outcomes, which encourages learning from mistakes or successes.
Lesson 2: Get Organized
Being organized is like making your bed. It seems mundane and meaningless, but it actually supports clear thinking and sets a tone for your entire day. It also can help you own your schedule.
I’d recommend choosing an organization method that supports your personality and work style, and then practice it daily. Are you a pen and paper person? Then don’t force yourself to use an app on your laptop or phone. Take out a notepad, a pen, and highlighter. Write your to-do list and prioritize based on your goals.
Lesson 3: Keep it Tidy
Many an architect will sing the praises of clean lines, white space, and simplicity. Do you like Apple’s designs? Then you too appreciate visual tidiness. Simplicity of your physical space can actually free your mind to focus on more complex tasks. Didn’t you noticed the impact the last time you got rid of all that extra paper clutter in your office? Didn’t you feel more focused as you went back to your to-do list? So, clear off your desk. Delete the old apps you don’t use on your devices. Recycle all that extra paper.
There are many great tips and ideas to cut through the digital haze and refocus. Top of the list is find what works for you and stick with it.
Want to learn more about mindfulness from our friends at the USA Olympics and Team USA? Want the first-hand knowledge AND rub elbows with Olympic elites at the same time? Learn more about a Gold Medal Leadership Experience for your team! Or you may experience Olympic-sized failure…