Written by Eric Gockel
If you made any resolutions for this year, odds are they involved being more productive at work. Or spending more time with your family. Or getting in better shape. Or having a better work/life balance. Or all of the above.
I feel the cornerstone to a lot of this is mindfulness. Single-task focus. Minimize the multi-tasking.
“Mindfulness” showed up a lot in our feeds last year. The current self-help quick-fix. Thing is, I’ve been a wobbling Zen fan, part-time Buddhist for many years, so this isn’t exactly something new, or a fad.
You’ve seen the stats, how switching between tasks, or getting distracted, is a huge time waster. But how do you keep your Zen on, and get your fence painted, Daniel-san?
The Pareto principal is your friend. Find the 20% of your work that returns 80% of the returns. Scrutinize your daily tasks. Is this task even necessary? Do I personally need to handle it, or can it be delegated?
You’re probably reading too much. Pay attention to 20% of the sources you read regularly that are of most value. Quit reading the rest.
Close Your Tabs
Easier said than done. I currently have 44 tabs open across 3 browser windows. These open tabs serve as open distractions—”open loops” in GTD parlance (Getting Things Done®).
Folks usually leave browser tabs open as reminders to get back to something. If it’s an article, bookmark it for later and close the tab. Unfinished email? Finish, send and close that tab. Many efficiency pros like Tim Ferriss proclaim checking email only twice a day helps with reducing distractions.
Eat a Frog Every Morning
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Not literally, but if you insist, this does look like a tasty recipe. But seriously. If you’re using some sort of a system for your daily tasks, do the least-attractive task first thing in day (preferably before checking email!), and get it out of the way. Then everything else is easy peasy the rest of the day.
Else, if you’re like I used to be, you’d end up with a whole bunch of frogs in your task list come Friday because you conveniently never got to them during the week.
In the spirit of not multi-tasking, when you’re attacking your next task, make sure you allot enough time to give it the time it deserves. If you need an hour (or three) to review a document, do an interview, or design a web page, carve out that time on your calendar to dedicate uninterrupted time for it. No phone calls, no email, no YouTube (sorry).
Think of it like visiting your doctor, dentist or attorney. When you have your appointment with them (albeit brief), they’re focused on their task/project, you. They’re not checking their iPhone (I hope). If they have a larger project like an operation, again, it’s totally focused on the task(s) at hand. No reviewing the Smith PowerPoint while they’re fishing around for your spleen.
“They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish.”
—David Meyer, psychology professor, University of Michigan
Don’t Over Schedule
Build in gaps in your appointments and tasks. Meetings and tasks will invariably run long on occasion and you don’t need the stress of rushing to your next meeting late and unprepared.
If you’re a desk jockey, take the opportunity to get up at least once an hour to stretch and grab some water. Reset your brain before the next round begins.
Wash my bowl?
If you haven’t heard the Zen koan, it goes like this:
A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
The monk replied: “I have eaten.”
Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.
It has a few different interpretations, but for the purposes of this article, it reinforces completing your current task thoughtfully and completely before moving onto the next.
And with that, I’m done with my blog post.