Just. One. Thing. The most important key to productivity is to remain focused on Just. One. Thing.
Why is it that something that sounds so simple, be so hard actually to do?
How do you go about accomplishing tasks or projects? Do you start one thing, then move to another, then another. Then get distracted by something else and move onto that? Before you know it, you can’t even keep track of the number projects you have open.
Do you try to work on something that requires focus when your kids are around and find that you are interrupted at least a dozen times every half hour?
Do you find yourself frustrated that you can’t ever seem to accomplish anything completely?
This common problem is known as multitasking, and it is destroying your productivity.
Now, when I say multitasking, I am not referring to activities like listening to a podcast while you’re running, watching a video while folding laundry, or listening to an audiobook while on your commute. Two somewhat monotonous tasks done concurrently is completely acceptable. This often helps me to remain focused on completing some activities without becoming board out of my mind.
What I am referring to is attempting to do more than one thing at a time. And by “at a time,” what I really mean is “until the last task is finished.” Multitasking is something that computers have been built to do, but our human brains most often fail miserably at it. What we do is not actually multitasking, but redirecting. We can not truly focus on more than one thing at once.
Do you have any idea how much time you spend re-directing your focus?
Redirect Eats Your Time
When you work on more than one thing at a time, every time you switch from doing one thing to the other, it takes your brain time to stop, forget about what you were working on, think about what you are going to do next, and then get to the point of actually taking action towards the next task.
The more you go back and forth, the more time you waste. You can lose anywhere between 20-90% of your productivity when you are not able to maintain focus on one thing. This is exaggerated even more when we are talking about a task that requires more attention.
This even goes for the most simple interruptions. If you are working on something like meal planning and have kids interrupting you every few minutes, it can turn what should have been a 30-minute task into a 2-hour task. I know how frustrating this can be, and I also know how easy it can be to set ourselves up for failure.
How to Avoid Multitasking
Set a Timer or Track Your Time
Knowing that the clock is ticking can help in a few ways. First, it gives you some accountability. Second, it pushes you to complete a task within a set time limit. When we don’t challenge ourselves to complete something in a set amount of time, it is easy to get distracted doing something else or take too long on something that doesn’t deserve it. This problem becomes worse when we are referring to projects rather than tasks.
Keep your Projects in a “Liquid” State
There are three states of matter – Solid, Liquid, and Gas. Solids have a definite shape and volume, Liquids have a definite volume, but a gas will fill the entire volume of the container they occupy. Projects can quickly take on the properties of a gas and fill every bit of time available if you allow them to. They can also go unfinished or be done poorly if you set boundaries that are too rigid (as in a solid). Projects need to be planned with some flexibility, but not given unlimited resources.
As moms, we tend to allow our projects “take the state of a gas” too often. We have learned to deal with interruptions and bouncing around from one project to the next – working on whatever makes the most sense at the time based on what our children are doing. We have lost our intentionality in many of our everyday actions. As a coping mechanism, we have adopted the mindset of “it will get done when it gets done.”
It is not a good idea to put too much pressure on yourself, but you do need to realize that there is a significant difference between grace and a lack of intentionality.
A lack of intentionality says: “I might as well not try because interruptions are going to happen.”
Grace says: “That may not have gone as well as we had hoped, but it is ok. We can look at what happened and come up ways to improve things the next time around. I am thankful for the opportunity to assess and improve.”
Create a better system and stop relying on self-discipline
Look for ways to improve how you do things. If you are regularly getting distracted, determine what is causing the distraction and remove it. For example, if you set aside time to do housework but you find yourself browsing through your phone checking email or social media – make it a point to put your phone out of reach/sight when doing housework.
Ditch the Notifications
Technology is great at stealing our attention through distractions in general. One way to prevent this is to remove all notifications on your phone/computer/tablet.
- There is no reason why someone replying to a comment you made on a Facebook post should demand your immediate attention.
- There is no need for you to stop and check your phone while in the middle of a game with your kiddos because you had a new email come in.
- It is crazy to stop in the middle of balancing your checking account to be notified that someone liked your picture on Instagram.
I think you get the point. This is a great and easy opportunity to start living proactively: (taking control of yourself and your time – you decide when you spend time on social media, checking email, etc.) And stop living reactively (jumping at every ding, beep, or chime that goes off and throwing your attention away from what you are doing and to your phone).
Build in Intensive Time Blocks
Setting aside anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours to do something intentionally will make a difference in how much you can accomplish. This doesn’t have to be “work” related tasks such as housework, home management tasks, etc. You could also decide to spend one hour doing something fun with your toddler. Make sure that they get your full and undivided attention – no trying to squeeze in some housework or working through something else mentally during this time.
Try around with a few different methods here – you can set an actual time on your calendar to do something, or you can add a set an amount of time you want to spend on a given activity to your task list. The flexibility does make sense sometimes, but make sure that it’s not getting tossed to the side on a regular basis.
I find that it is most productive for me to set things up at a specific time on my calendar when hubby is home, and I can rely on him to deal with the variabilities of parenting. When he is gone at work, I like to have more flexibility and fit things in when it makes the most sense. I have an idea of when I will most likely have time for it, but when I try to squeeze something into a fixed period, it usually causes more stress than it is worth.
Keep a Notepad on Hand
As you are working on something – either a household project, doing something with your kids, or working on your computer, you are bound to have thoughts come to mind that will steal your attention away from what you are doing. I have not found a way to prevent this completely, and when I try to fight it, it seems to make things even worse.
Rather than giving much time or energy into these thoughts that come to mind, write them down in your Everything Notebook and move on. As long as you have a system in place to process your notes on a regular basis, you will be able to get back to what you are doing, knowing that you can come back to it later.
Meditation is an excellent way to exercise your mind, learn to gain control over it, and be better at focusing. I used to have the hardest time turning my mind off at night (ok, I still do, but I’m getting better). I also had a hard time allowing myself to take any time for recreation or rest in the past – especially without feeling guilty or being able to let go of other things going on mentally. Through the practice of meditation, I am gaining more control over my mind and my ability to focus on a single given activity.
If meditation sounds scary or too “out there,” I encourage you to check out Headspace. They have a free ten day series called “Take Ten” that lasts ten minutes each day. It’s a great place to start to determine if it might be helpful for you.
Take a Break
If you are finding it hard to focus on something, step away from it. Sometimes a five-minute break will do, but sometimes more is necessary.
I think it is beneficial to take a break from each area of our life on a regular basis. When I do my weekly planning, I not only choose what I am going to focus on for the week, but I also am intentional about taking a break in certain areas as well.
Taking a break from any given area of your life does not mean you have to step completely away from it. For example, I would never suggest that you 100% take a break from your walk with God. But, taking a week or two off from doing an additional bible study can be rejuvenating in the long run. The same can go for parenting. If you don’t have the ability to take off on vacation and leave your kids in the care of someone you trust, consider dropping into maintenance mode for a week to gain a fresh perspective of what areas you might want to work on in the future.
I choose 1-3 areas out of my “life categories” each week to either take a complete break from or put into maintenance only mode. These categories include: spiritual, physical, mental, rest, marital, parental, social, giving, homemaking, financial, recreational, entrepreneurial, homeschooling, and homesteading.
Find ways to make your focus worth while. Most of the time, the reward of completing your project efficiently, or having some real quality time with your kids will be sufficient enough as a reward. Other times, maybe not so much. Cleaning toilets in my house used to be rewarding because then we had a clean toilet… But now with five little boys in the house, they don’t stay clean for too long.
Tell yourself that if you work at one project intently for 25 minutes, when you are done, you get a treat of some sort. Or up the ante and reward yourself with something better after following through working at the same project intently for 25 minutes, five days in a row.
We grew up in a time and a society where most of us were taught: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Although I do see some value in this concept, I also believe it is flawed. First, it does not fully take into account the importance of recognizing who you are and the areas where you are gifted… But that’s for another blog post.
Second, we all have confines that we have to learn how to work within or around. All of us have limited resources of time, money, and energy.
When you go through life with the mindset that “You can do anything you put your mind to,” it is so easy to forget about these confines. I have found that the best way to adapt this mindset is to remind myself, “You can do anything, and everything you want to… just do it one thing at a time.”
You need always to be conscious of the fact that time is fleeting. Not stressed out or worried about it, but aware of it. With this in mind, we need to prioritize our resources (our time, our money, and our energy).
Has your productivity been suffering due to multitasking? How do you plan to stop this?