Six Thoughts On Multitasking

Posted In focus, productivity

After an exhilarating creative period while launching DrivenWoman a year ago, I found myself very stressed out last autumn. I was getting seriously into tweeting, sending my last tweets literally seconds before going to bed. I was building the DrivenWoman website, and learning how to do it as I did so. I was stressing out as our membership numbers weren’t growing as I had envisioned (because – of course – nothing ever goes as you expect). I was also running my other business, raising serious money, my kids were starting school and… Well, you get the picture! I was stressed out and lacking focus trying to do it all at the same time.

I can really relate to the stories of many of our members. It’s so common to get excited about your newly discovered passion or the business you want to set up, and get completely carried away trying to achieve all the goals in an instant. We think we have to be driven, so we start multitasking. Something we women tend to pride ourselves on, a fact that has even been backed by studies. But a month or two later, we feel like we are still in the same spot having moved very little with our plans.

Somewhere along the way we have confused doing many things simultaneously with efficiency.

We joke about men being such simple creatures that they can only do one thing at a time. Hmmm, perhaps that actually is the real secret to getting things done! Besides it has been proven that multitasking is a myth.

Does this sound familiar?

Deepa is setting herself up as a yoga teacher and a massage therapist (a fabulous one at that, I must add), and she tells me she’s finding herself constantly multitasking:

“I was doing my emails at the same time as I was listening to an important podcast. I realised I missed half of it, I should have been taking notes. Now I have to listen to it again!”

That’s exactly what we all tend to do when we think we have to get lots done. Hey, let’s do it all at once!

Unfortunately the exactly opposite happens. Deepa ends up doing both tasks twice: she will have to listen to the podcast again as she missed the key points because she wasn’t paying attention and didn’t take notes; and her email probably didn’t have the impact she was hoping for.

The secret to reducing stress and still getting lots done is to do just one thing at a time.

It really is that simple.

Multitasking sounds good in theory but in fact it creates even more work for you and becomes a real Time Robber!

My golden rules for reducing stress and getting things done, instead of multitasking, are:

1) Give each day a theme.

Pick a theme for your day and then decide to focus on 1 – 3 tasks within that theme. I have days such as ‘Admin’ when I only focus on getting all admin stuff done: household organising – planning, paying bills and so on. ‘Strategy’ when I dedicate the day to our member feedback and how we can improve our concept even further. A day called ‘Blogging’ that includes brainstorming for blog ideas, writing up the Monday posts and researching what other bloggers write and where I could become a guest blogger. And so on.

2) Decide your focus before you start.

Make a decision about what you are going to do before you start. Then just focus on what you are doing and don’t think at all about what else you could or should be doing.

3) Focus on one thing at a time.

Don’t multitask. As soon as you catch yourself trying to do two things at the same time, stop. If I catch myself even thinking whilst I listen to a podcast I quickly bring myself back to what I’m listening to because I know that otherwise I’m wasting my time. If I can’t do one thing well, I won’t do it at all.

4) Complete what you start.

Pick realistic tasks that you can complete within the time you have available. Starting and stopping is another real time waster. And even worse are the tasks you start knowing you don’t want to do them and so don’t go all in on them. Be critical and drop tasks you are not fully motivated by, or try to find the motivation if they are crucial.

5) Protect what you are doing.

I’ve written about this many times before. You have to fiercely protect your immediate goals. Switch off phone and email. Don’t let people talk to you and lock yourself up into a meeting room or go to a cafe if you have to. Don’t let yourself be lured into phone calls or social media discussions. You must assign a separate time period for social interaction. Unless the house is burning down, don’t let yourself be distracted.

6) Exceptions to the rule. You can multitask when you are:

a) driving – You can listen to podcasts, think (yes, thinking is a separate and important task!) or talk on the phone (using hands free!) when you are driving.

b) in transit – Again, you can listen to podcasts, read, sort out email or think and make notes when you are on a train or in a bus (remember notebook!).

c) drinking tea – Don’t multitask when you eat your main meals. It should be time for relaxation and enjoyment of the food. Giving yourself a moment of relaxation will help you to reduce stress levels and thus help you to be more focused on your tasks later. But a drink or a snack during the day is a good time to read an inspiring article in a magazine or a blog post.

Finding your passion and being ambitious about your goals should be invigorating and fun, not draining and stressful.

Remind yourself why you are doing it (because you love it!) and try to reconnect with your purpose when you feel stressed out. If you are aware of the small choices you make daily you will become much better at it and gradually reduce the stress and anxiety.

I truly hope these little tips will help you out. Do share what frustrates you most right now and if you have any tips for other passionate-but-stressed types.

Have a great week!

~ Miisa

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Sunday, May 11th, 2014

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