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Single Tasking & Cracking the Productivity Code

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Single Tasking & Cracking the Productivity Code

The most valuable skill in this age of distraction is the ability to single task rather than multi task. This skill will command a premium in the new economy.

Busyness is now synonymous with self-worth.  If you ask someone how they are doing, their answer typically has some reference to how busy they are.  "Oh I’m doing good, but busy, really busy."  This is not a condition that affects only you or me; everyone is busy.  Therefore, I'd like to propose that we "unbusy" our lives from unimportant tasks.  Let's get back to having the right objective with our time spent, which should be productivity, not busyness.   We can get back to responding "I'm doing great, how are you?" rather than defining ourselves as busy, but without purpose, or lacking productivity.  We can go back to no longer overstating how busy we are, so we can feel like we're keeping up.

Let's get back to having the right objective with our time spent, which should be productivity, not busyness.

Single Tasking - The Antidote to Busyness

It happens in offices all over the world.  Meetings take place while everyone is checking email.  Both the meeting and the texting is mediocre at best.  Productivity actually decreases when we multi task.  This is because the brain is physically incapable of handing more than one task at a time.  When we multi task, the brain actually switches from one task to the other.  Every time this switch happens, it has to re-engage itself back onto the previous task.  Brain switching is inefficient.  This is why email is a productivity killer.  It is very possible to go to work and simply spend your whole day responding to emails.   The day then turns reactive - it is controlled by the emails and phone calls, interrupted, and unproductive.  The problem is that you still need to accomplish the value generating activities, the ones that pay your bills.  This is when the day really goes sideways.  To "make up", we stay late, or we take the work home, or we can't stop thinking about it while we play with our kids.  Busyness and life imbalance ensues.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  We can learn how to reorganize our life by planning in advance and then single tasking through the day.  How?

Data Never Lies - An Experiment

Data helps us see trends and make adjustments.  I never fully understood why I was so busy, but always felt like the day was unfinished.  I didn't understand this, until I decided to track my time for a full two weeks.  I tracked everything - work, sleep, play, relax time, family time, etc.  The results were mind-boggling --- I didn't appreciate how much time I wasted just doing low value and useless activities.  I thought I watched lots of TV, I didn't.  I thought that I didn't sleep enough, I did, on average 7.3 hours including the odd weekend nap.  I spent an inordinate amount of time on urgent, but unimportant behaviors such as checking email, being on the phone, traveling/commuting, and attending low impact meetings.  I also spent a ton of time reading the newspaper, trade magazines, and keeping up with economic events just to try to stay informed.  I realized that none of these activities were truly adding value - to my employer, my family, or me personally.  They sucked energy out of my life and created the busy feeling.  When I also inserted the more important things I had to accomplish, there just wasn't enough room for everything.

The Antidote

Following my experiment, I began to add good habits and delete time sucking bad habits - one habit at a time.  I started waking up at 5:00 am rather than 6:30 am.  I developed a morning routine that focused on meditation, fitness, and goal setting for the day.  In order to get 7 hours of sleep, I went to bed by 10:00 pm without excuse following an evening routine that skipped late night sports highlights and channel flipping.  I did this because I needed to get more focused on my daily goals.  They needed to be planned in advance, so I could execute them flawlessly during the day.  It was too easy to get sidetracked.  I then started to religiously set my timer for 1 hour intervals to work on the selected task without distraction.  This inserted value generation into my day, and then I set out to eliminate.

There was a lot of elimination.  I eliminated about 80% of my email traffic.   I went on an indefinite media fast - no random TV or newspapers, but rather an RSS feed that gave me only what I selected.  I didn't spend more than 10 minutes a day reading the feed.  I stopped using social media for entertainment, and started using it only for brand and message management.  There is a big difference.  Using social media for entertainment means posting pictures or sharing thoughts that don't necessarily mean anything.  Most people use social media this way, for entertainment like TV or movie watching.  Social media for brand and message management means using the tools to distribute the content that you are putting out every day.  By focusing only on message distribution, rather than entertainment, I got back approximately 3 hours per week back for value creation.  There were certain things I couldn't eliminate like commuting.  However, I made sure I covered off activities such as making important phone calls during the commute.

All in all, this habit changing regime served as an antidote against busyness, and propelled my productivity at work, home, and life to exponential heights.  It also killed my feeling of "unaccomplished" busyness.  I then had to learn how to tell people who I actually could get more done (as long as the activity is worth it), and truthfully could answer "I'm doing great, how are you?" without mentioning my state of busyness at all when someone asks me how I'm doing.

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