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The Right Way To Be A Multitasker

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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!”

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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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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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