With unprecedented distractions at our fingertips, the ability to focus and finish a project before moving on to the next has become a more valuable skill than multitasking.
In Why Focus Should Really Be the Next “Big Thing,” Dr. Gottschalk suggests that the ability to multitask is more of an illusion, than a bona fide skill. That in reality, we should be on a mission to break our multitasking obsession, since, while we have the ability to switch between tasks — we do not have the ability to attend to all of them effectively.
Instead of multitasking, focus on one task at a time. Here are a few tips.
Plan to do less – There are few things more discouraging than an endless to-do list. It’s a productivity killer. Limit your daily tasks to 5: 3 big things and 2 small things. Of course, it’s wistful to assume that you’ll have only five tasks on any given day, so create a “Back Burner” list where you throw less urgent tasks or brilliant ideas as they occur. When you’re done with your five tasks, then drag a few of the “Back Burner” tasks over.
This works like a charm for me: during daily “agile” stand-up morning meetings I limit the reporting of core tasks to five. I often end up completing many more tasks as priorities shift during the day. But starting out with a manageable number of tasks lessens the burden and stress and allows me to focus on each task to completion. Like researching and writing this post.
Productivity Tip: Create a “Daily Tasks” folder in Evernote and check off tasks as each is completed. This little step generates a sense of satisfaction as you progress throughout the day. You can have a very simple Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow task list but I prefer to assign a date, save them all, and periodically review and assess my assignments and productivity.
Pomodoro Technique – We’re big fans of the Pomodoro technique where you you set a timer for 25 minutes and work on only one thing during that time. No breaks or interruptions. Take a break for 5 minutes and then start up again. I play around with the 25 minutes intervals depending on the task at hand but try not to go too long before taking a 5 minute break.
Remove Distractions – The first thing you should do is turn off all notifications. In fact, you should always have them turned off on your work device – computer or tablet. I only get notifications on my phone and it’s almost always on vibrate. Notification of comments to yesterday’s post on Facebook should never be allowed to become a distraction. Email can wait until your current task is completed.
As a remote worker, I have Skype messaging on all day to keep in touch with the mother ship, but put it on “do not disturb” when focusing on a project.
I also open a new browser window with open tabs related to my current project only.
Change Location – If you can, go to Starbucks or the public library for a couple hours to focus on a particular project. Change of scenery can also boost your creativity. I’m at Argo Tea writing this post and the 2-hour WiFi limit acts as my Pomodoro timer. If you’re stuck at the office, work in a conference room for an hour or two every day.
All tasks may not require such deep focus, but for those that do, try these tips and adjust them to your unique situation.
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