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Posts tagged ‘prioritization’

Unitasking

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” – Henry Miller

photo by sethoscope, via  flickr creative commons

photo by sethoscope, via flickr creative commons

I used to think that multitasking — trying to ALWAYS kill two birds with one stone — was the best way to squeeze more into my life.  And in some ways, I still believe this.  I like to to do walking meetings.  I like to listen to podcasts while I work out.  And yes, date night (well, date day) is often a bike ride or a trail run.

But I’ve noticed that there is a stark difference between “combining activities to be efficient” and the dark side of multitasking which feels stressful and chaotic and “one foot out the door” at all times.  We see the latter everywhere these days — the guy at the gym talking on his phone and reading The Economist while he “works out” on the elliptical machine…the colleague who is banging out emails during another colleague’s presentation…the mom catching up with her friends at the park while her kid masters the monkey bars for the first time ever.  I recognize these people because as much as I’d like to think otherwise, I am more like them than I am unlike them.

There’s a ton of data out there about how multitasking impacts our productivity, our creativity, our memory, and our ability to influence others.  A Stanford study found that “people who chronically engage in media-multitasking exhibit certain cognitive deficits: specifically, they have more trouble ignoring distractions, keeping irrelevant memories from interfering in their present task, and switching from one task to another, mostly because they can’t help thinking about the task they’re not doing.”  And if you’re interested in this research, check out this article or a book written a few years ago called The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done (a few basic google search terms will open up a spigot of related information too).

Despite reading about this for years, I’m only just now beginning to make the shift from multitasking to unitasking (as we know, information does not equal behavior change).  I’m trying out a bunch of practices to see what’s easy and what’s hard…what sticks and what doesn’t.

  • Check email at set intervals (morning, noon, end of workday, end of day)
  • Close tabs when I’m done with them (goodbye, days of last week’s kayak search still being open in my browser)
  • Try a new workspace when starting a new task (mixing up the environment can work wonders)
  • Embrace airplane mode (believe it or not, your phone’s airplane mode works at the park, at dinner, and at parties too!)
  • Clear the table (remove any technology, newspapers, books, magazines, legos, etc from the table and focus on the food and the company)
  • Schedule reading time (save media/blog reading for a structured hour each morning rather than reading all day long)
  • Work on a passion project (like a blog! or an art project!  or building robots in your basement!)
  • Sleep (sleep = unitasking by default!)

How do you feel about multitasking?  When does killing two birds with one stone help you, and when does it hurt you and the people around you?  Do you have any unitasking secrets to share?

Loved It/Loathed It

loved it/loathed itIn order to make changes in our lives, we need to know what exactly we want to change.  It’s like any other question — we need to understand the problem before we can drive toward a solution.  And understanding the problem actually takes a bit of conscious effort…

For example, let’s say I feel frustrated at work.  The root cause of this could be lots of different things — the people I interact with most, the level of autonomy I have, the impact I feel I’m making on the world, the level of work-life integration I have, or the tasks that make up each day.  Before I can go about making changes and improvements, I need to understand what I need to do more of and do less of in order to migrate to a future state that feels less frustrating (and ideally even good).

Best-selling author and strengths-based development guru Marcus Buckingham offers a super simple way to approach this introspective work.  It’s an exercise he calls “Loved It/Loathed It.” Here’s how it works:

1) Create a sheet of paper with two columns — I Loved It, and I Loathed It

2) Carry this sheet of paper around for a week and whenever you notice an activity (at work or outside of work) that you love or loathe, make note of it (do it in the moment, not at the end of the day…it should only take a minute)

3) By the end of the week, you’ll have two columns of activities.  Review the lists, and think about the activities you want to do more of and do less of

4) Identify three simply ways you can do more of the things you love at work, and build a support system (your boss, your peers, your friends) that can help you make sure this happens

It’s obviously not useful to do this exercise every week or even every month, but it’s a great tool during times of transition and/or as an annual refresh/check-in.

Have you ever done this exercise?  Has it helped clarify new insights about your life?  Have you been able to make actionable changes based on what you learned?

 

 

Brynn Harrington

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