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The Right Way To Be A Multitasker

The Right Way To Be A Multitasker

Some people have a very precise definition of who they are, and if it works for them, that’s great. I can see how comforting it can be to look at yourself in the mirror and say: “I am exactly the person I think I am.”

The trouble for me is: I don’t find it comforting. I find it stifling. Don’t get me wrong, I have expectations of myself, others and the world.
But I’ve never felt like I was a fixed concept. I change, and by that I don’t mean I change with time, I mean I change all the time. I get to choose who I want to be at every second, and that makes me feel free.

The thing is, most productivity theories are meant for single-minded people. They tell us we should focus on one project, take it to the limit, then move on to the next one, hopefully in a perfect continuity. The productivity ideal seems to be: know exactly what’s coming next, and then become exactly that.

But I don’t think that reflects the way most people function. We have jobs. We have personal lives. We have hobbies, interests, mood swings, little illnesses, moments of motivation, moments of joy. All of those things constantly change. They shift, interact and often conflict, requiring us to make hard choices, and if there’s a choice we don’t know how to make, we feel like we failed. But we didn’t fail. We were simply the usual victims of a case of “Life happens”. Life does happen, all the time. My point is, we should embrace it.

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1. Let the pressure off

The first and biggest culprit for our unhappiness is the feeling that we should be doing “more.” Am I getting enough sleep? Am I spending enough time with my family? What if my 50 hours of weekly work are insufficient? We don’t even wait for our loved ones to complain, or for our boss to give us feedback. We are constantly pitting ourselves against the clock, under the impression that more hours is always better.

Well, that’s simply not true.

A large body of work supports the claim that our productive time is capped. 40 to 50 hours per week is the spot after which we cannot focus anymore. Much like an athlete training for a marathon, our brain needs time to recover, and grudging that is the most direct path to a burnout (a well-known Finnish study postulates that people who work 11 hours per day are at a 2.5 times higher risk of suffering from depression than people who work for 7-8 hours.)

Our friends and family too need quality time rather than a lot of time (ignore this if you’ve just put a toddler into this world, and revisit once you leave them in Kindergarten.) Does your better half prefer to have your undivided attention for 1 hour, or would they rather have you slumped on the couch by their side with your laptop for the whole evening? There you go.

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We really need to leave the “longer is better” mindset behind. Instead, we should commit to every activity we undertake. Work less but be more focused. Run less but do interval training. We cannot add more hours to our days, but we can make the most of each hour. That’s the goal.

2. Don’t give up on things that matter

Once you realize you don’t need to do more, it’s time to get another complex out of the way. You are allowed to have many different things matter to you. You don’t need to pigeonhole yourself as a family person, a workaholic, a fitness addict or a geek.

In my case, I have a partner, a family and a job, I am trying to get into running, and I love video games, books, movies, theater, singing, taking pictures. Every one of these things matters to me. Some people might say: why don’t you pick a couple activities, that should be enough to make you happy, right?

Wrong. The vast amount of things I enjoy is part of who I am, and each moment I spend enjoying them increases me. Why would I specialize?

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First of all, there are diminishing returns to everything: our productivity, our enjoyment of activities, and indeed our enjoyment of others. We all have stories of people going away on holidays with best friends, and wanting to strangle them before the end…

Second and most importantly, having diverse interests has been proven time and time again to make us smarter, quicker, more apt to create new, impactful ideas and things. In The Art of Scientific Invention, W.I.B. Beveridge explained, in 1957 already, that our brains need an “eclectism of influence” to be at their best. In other words, diversifying our activities is not only alright, it’s a necessity.

So instead of grudgingly giving up on things you enjoy for the sake of conforming to a definition, leave the door open. If anything, discover new things to enjoy from time to time! We all age, but we don’t have to grow old.

3. Track your time to get rid of distractions

The big question, of course, is: how to fit all that in a week? There’s only so much time you can claw back. If you work 40 hours instead of 42, that’s still only 2 hours. So what gives?

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I really committed to tracking my time 2 years ago, when we created with two friends our own automated time-tracking app, Smarter Time. And I’ve learned something very important.

I was spending ages on things that did not matter to me, and could only be qualified as wasting time. I used to go back and forth between my work and silly articles on social media constantly. 10 minutes working, 4 minutes on Facebook. 10 minutes on emails, 3 minutes on Twitter. That’s about 25% of my working hours wasted. As a result, I felt I had to work 25% more. That’s not 2 hours, people. That’s the difference between a 50 and a 62 hour week. It’s huge.

But the thing is, because each distraction was very short in duration, I would never have guessed they were adding up to so much. That’s where having an objective way of tracking my time came into play. I essentially replaced 12 hours of useless time-wasters with a diversification of activities that actually make me grow.

Another thing it helps with is to balance your interests out. Let’s say I have a couple hours free. I’d like to play a bit of guitar, but then, I’d also like to play a video game. I can have a look at my analytics and decide: “Oh, I’ve played 10 hours of guitar this month, by my standards that’s enough. Let’s exterminate some alien species online!”

Multitasking, like any complex system, is a matter of organisation. Sure, it’s easier to have one job, one hobby and one friend; you always know what you’re going to do next. But if that doesn’t work for you, then you shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to broaden your horizons. We only have one life, but we each have an infinity of ways of living it – so why not try several ways at a time? There’s no reason not to be all the persons you want to be.

Featured photo credit: Steven Depolo via flickr.com

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Published on July 17, 2018

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

What is compartmentalization

To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

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Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

How to develop the skill of compartmentalization

The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

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Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be. Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life. For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

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Ask yourself the question “Is there anything I can do about it right now?”

This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

Reframe the problem as a question

Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

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For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

Choose one thing to focus on

To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it. Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

Comparmentalization saves you stress

Compartmentalization is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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