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.
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!