Category Archives: Productivity

The dangers of multi-tasking

A couple of weeks ago, frustrated that I had made little recent progress on my eternally ‘almost finished’ book, I blocked out three days and marked them in the diary as if they were external meetings. I told  colleagues and friends what I was doing to help cut down on unnecessary calls – usually I get lots of Skype  calls throughout the day. The real test came when I had two requests to meet clients during the allocated days (Sod’s Law). I decided to hold firm and (without saying I was working on the book) explained that I couldn’t make the chosen times. Both people suggested alternative dates. Normally I would have just forgone the writing time and accepted the initial suggested meeting timing.  As a result of my standing firm I manged to finish the first draft of the book. I know that would not have happened otherwise.

During those 3 days, I only checked my email at the beginning and end of the day – and used my phone or iPad to do this so I could avoid getting hijacked once I was working on the book on my Mac. I kept my browser closed and only went online (again via my iPad) to fact check when needed. I was amazed at how much I got done – averaging 3000 words a day plus a lot of editing and research.

This afternoon I was reading a piece on information overload, from The McKinsey Quarterly and it rang a lot of bells for me. Today was a classic multi-tasking, always-online, kind of day (including reading the McKinsey piece which I came across while browsing my Twitter stream) and I got done only a fraction of what I wanted to do, despite having no client meetings and only a couple of calls to distract me.

I realise now it was because I was trying to work on several tasks at once and failing to give enough attention to any of them. The McKinsey piece explains why multi tasking , far from being a virtue, can actually be bad for you in terms of productivity, creativity and wellbeing.

It refers to recent research in which participants who completed tasks in parallel took up to 30 percent longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence.

The same article references a Harvard Business School study among 9000 individuals which showed that the likelihood of creative thinking is higher when people focus on one activity for a significant part of the day and collaborate with just one other person. That certainly mirrors my own experience.

On top of that multi- tasking also creates anxiety and lowers job satisfaction. So much for us women thinking we had an inherent advantage in being able to multi task better than men!

In this digital, always on age, where we rarely venture forth without a smart phone and where we are always connected and reachable, it’s worth taking stock every now and then and thinking about disconnecting, even if only for blocks of time. I’m also going to do my work in sequence rather than grass-hoppering about between projects and tasks.

I’ll let you know how I get on!


The Lucky Dip – a New Year tip for the self-employed

One of the most common challenges for the ever-increasing ranks of the self-employed is staying motivated – especially for those who work from home.

Having earned my crust as a successful independent consultant,  working from my home office for over ten years, I’m often asked how I stick at it and avoid distractions.

The answer is that often I do get distracted, and I’ve learnt over time that when this happens it’s best to go with the flow and let it happen, as usually it means that my brain in is in “processing and cogitating” mode – even if subconsciously – so I just let it get on with it while I do whatever diversionary activity comes my way!

The real challenge is not the times when I skive off to do a spot of gardening or nip to the hairdressers – I see these diversions as the balancing benefit of all the other times when I’m sat at my desk at midnight or on a Sunday afternoon – it’s the times when I have nothing  pressing and instead of capitalising on that, the guilt kicks in and I do all sorts of pointless stuff while sat firmly at my desk. How much better to grab the opportunity and get out and do something else, like go to an exhibition or meet a friend.

As a result I must waste large amounts of time “quasi-working” when I could get far more benefit from giving myself permission to go play. “Quasi working” is where I make myself  stay at the desk but go off on a completely pointless round of trivial displacement activity. Far better to stop agonising over what still needs to be done on the long to do list and either do something mindless and easy but nonetheless essential  – like pulling together papers for the accountant or alternatively get out and play!

But the issue for me is justifying to myself what to do –  in the desperate attempt to prioritise I end up doing nothing.

So I’m trying a new approach. It’s called The Lucky Dip. I’ve cut up a couple of sheets of paper into small pieces and written a task on each. These now sit in a bowl ready for the next time when (like today) I have an hour to spare due to a postponed meeting  The tasks are a mixture of stuff I’d otherwise avoid or put off (such as tidying the office, updating my expenses), stuff I never have time to do (such as telephoning a client or colleague that I haven’t spoken to in a while, writing a piece for this blog) and stuff that’s a treat (curling up for an hour with a good book and a cup of tea, going out to buy myself some flowers, going for a walk, listening to a TED Talk ). So the plan is that when I get a window of time without a pressing call on it I take a lucky dip and then follow the instructions – no cheating!

I’ll do an update to this piece in a month or so to let you know how it’s going! If you have a go too I’d love to hear how you get on.

New tools for organising information

I’ve been using two new tools in my ongoing battle to simplify and organise all the information in my life.

The first, Flipboard, was only launched this week, so I haven’t given it an extended test drive yest – but so far I’m loving it. It’s for i-pad and, like the Twitter Daily I recently posted about, it’s a way to sort your social media into a more visually friendly format. In other words a look just like a quality print magazine but on your i-pad. Unlike Twitter Daily, Flipboard also turns your Facebook information into a magazine format too, along with any other sources you want to consult. I’m loving it BUT it’s early days and apparently they’ve been massively oversubscribed so new users may experience some delays in setting it up.

What I’m absolutely LOVING is Evernote. I now have this on Mac, PC, i-phone and i-Pad and it syncs across all these using cloud technology. If I’m on a webpage and I want to save it, I just clip a little icon in my Browser and it grabs the URL as a bookmark AND scoops in the whole content including pictures. If I want to jot down an address,  make a  few notes or take a picture I can drop them into  Evernote on my phone and then there they are waiting for me on the computer when I get back to the office.So no matter where I am, I can access things that matter to me and everything syncs immediately. It’s magic!

Within Evernote I now have a series of notebooks, one with work-related material: articles and stimulus, one with background material for a book I am writing, another related to my online business, Make it and Mend it, where I gather stuff I want to follow up on later, and the rest sits in a general notebook – everything from holiday ideas to quickly scribbled notes to remind myself to do things.

Evernote is absolutely free – although there’s a premium version for a small monthly fee. So far the free app is proving perfectly adequate for my needs. Give it a go!


Flipboard for i-Pad