How often do we hear this statement? But how can we do “one thing at a time” in a world that throws so much at us at once?
Do you hear people talk about their ability to multitask? If someone can do it well, great. But that’s not most of us. Truth be told, what we think of as “multitasking” isn’t multitasking at all. Rather it’s “task switching.” We go from one task to another, back and forth. Mistakes increase. Stress increases.
Sure, there are situations where there is no other choice than to rapidly switch focus. Some jobs require it on a regular basis. But what I am talking about are all the times something or someone interrupts us out of convenience or lack of a good system to trap ideas.
What’s the cost? With any activity, there’s a certain amount of time and energy to get started and more to wind things down. The more task switching you do, the more wasted motion you introduce.
Perhaps you first heard it as a child. You asked a parent for something when that parent was busy with another task. “I can only do one thing at a time,” was the response you got. And when it comes to doing something well, it’s still true.
Think of the times you are most productive. You are so focused on the task at hand, It’s as if the rest of the world is blocked away. You are in a state of what is called “flow.”
So how can you minimize the task switching and increase flow?
Have a “parking place” for interruptions
Your email does not need your attention every time something new rolls in. Ditto for voicemail. Technology is doing a marvelous job of holding these things for you until the appropriate time. Take advantage of this asset. Likewise, the old-fashioned inbox will hold every piece of paper that begs your attention until you wish to handle it all.
The trick is to know how many of these “parking places” you have. Build a routine where you check each often enough that you know no deadline is being missed. Once or twice a day just may be sufficient.
Work ahead of deadlines
Work ahead of deadlines. When a document needs your signature right now because it has to be in the mail with today’s postmark, you have little option. You drop what you are doing, handle the interruption, and then try to pick back up where you left off. Three minutes later, another interruption puts a halt to your progress again.
When you work ahead of deadlines, nothing is “urgent.” You can batch similar items and handle them more quickly. You’ve built in a time buffer. You free yourself from making decisions about what to do based solely on what deadline you are about to miss.
When you work ahead of deadlines, you also free yourself from interruptions caused by others dropping by for a “status report.” The work is done before they have even thought to check up on you.
Establish times for open interaction
Build into the day points where you are “interruptible.” Take a walk around the office at regular times. Visit the break room. You can handle a large number of short interactions during this time.
If people have some idea of when they might be able to have your undivided attention, they’re less likely to drop in just when you have gotten in a groove on an important project.
Maintain an agenda for key people
You also need a “parking place” for items to discuss with others. When an item comes to mind, put it on a list. When you get together with that person run through the entire list. With a digital task list, each time an item occurs to you, create a new task and start it with the name of the person. Later, a search for that person’s name brings up every item related to them.
If you want to work quickly and minimize errors, work on one thing at a time. Give it 100% of your attention until it’s time to move on. That’s one time-saver that never goes out of style.
Life is too short and time too precious to waste one more day. If you are someone who stumbled upon this site for the first time, let me help you take a major step forward right now. When you join my email list, I’ll give you two free gifts. The first will get your desk clean. The second will put everything you have to do in one place. Plus, each week you’ll hear from me with nuts & bolts tools and strategies to make life easier and more productive. You’re one click away from making it happen.