I read a lot about productivity tips and how we as human beings are NOT multi-taskers. We like to think that we are but the truth is that we are much better when we focus on just one thing at a time.
Ever get lost in a project? I know I have. It’s that feeling when you have great momentum and you are super productive and you are undisturbed. It takes time to get into this mode. Like a train leaving the station you have to build up to this productive speed but once you do you are cruising along.
Moving from email to IM to 30 minutes of work and then off to the next meeting is not the recipe for gaining productivity momentum. Instead you have to guard your time from distractions. Below are a few techniques I’ve picked up along the way that have helped me stay focused.
Productivity Tip #1: Pick Just Three Tasks Each Day
Steven Covey uses the analogy of putting rocks into a container. You can only fit so many boulders (big tasks) before you run out of space. The remaining gaps can then be filled with smaller pebbles and sand (daily distractions and immediate needs). When it comes to work, your container is your work day and you can only fit a limited number of big tasks each day so pick the things you want to address before the day ends. I like to select three items each day that I want to accomplish knowing that my time is going to be pulled in a lot of different directions. This helps make sure that as distractions come up throughout the day, you can stay focused on what’s important while still reacting to what’s critical.
Productivity Tip #2: Turn Off Email and Instant Messengers
This is a judgement call. Obviously if you are client facing or dealing with critical issues, email maybe a necessity but the goal here is to remove distractions and allow yourself time to build momentum. How many times do you check email a day? when you first come into work? When you are in a long meeting? When you get back from lunch? Do you get pop-up notifications when a new email arrives? My guess is that many of us have developed a subconscious habit of checking email so frequently that we may not even realize that we are doing it. And what happens when you see a new email? You stop what you are doing and go read it. Same with instant messengers. This conflicts with tip #1 on staying focused on the big tasks. Instead, if you can manage it with your job, try turning off email or at least try going offline for a little while and then set specific times of the day to check email. You’ll find that removing this major distraction may help you gain some momentum.
Productivity Tip #3: Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket
By eggs I mean tasks. This is straight out of Getting Things Done by David Allen. Consolidating all of your to-dos into one place means you no longer miss anything and you can organize and prioritize things in one location. The first step is to make sure you have everything identified, then you can sort our the order to address each item.
While there are many other ideas, I’ve focused on these three as a starting point because each one allows me to avoid distractions and focus on one thing at a time rather than mutitask throughout the day.