Tag 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!


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

Clear all the crap with the Egg Timer Game

eggtimerFrequently I find that my ability to get the big, important things done is negatively impacted by the guilt I feel over the large and increasing pile of small, less important but nonetheless essential, administrative tasks. The list of things just gets bigger until the tasks take on a Sword of Damocles effect and up paralysing me from doing everything else.

The trouble with all those nasty little tasks is they are really easy to do, but the effort involved to get stuck in to starting them can seem inordinate.
“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” Olin Miller

If this sounds familiar, then you need to try  The Egg Timer Game. It’s a great tool for improving productivity. In just an hour you can clear a huge backlog of dreary oppressive admin and free yourself up to tackle the more meaty, more interesting, more rewarding and more important things on your To Do list.

Here’s how:

1. Set aside an hour when you won’t be interrupted (you may want to switch the phone off).
2. Gather together the work you want to tackle so it’s all to hand in the same place. Separate the tasks into different piles – e.g. filing together, follow up phone calls together etc
3. Set your egg-timer for ten or fifteen minutes.
4. Go hell for leather at the first pile and try to get through it before the buzzer goes off
5. When the buzzer sounds, move onto the next task and so on, until you have cleared all the taks or the hour is up.
6. Stop. Smile. Feel smug. Give yourself a little reward

The great thing about this process is that it is a game and if you treat it that way it won’t feel like dreary, boring admin any more. If like me you are a competitive person, you’ll find yourself competing against the clock, racing to get each pile cleared before the buzzer sounds.  It’s important not to be a slave to the process though. It is designed to get you started. I have occasionally found that once started I get so into a particular sub-task that when the buzzer goes I simply don’t want to stop. When that happens I sometimes carry on and switch to the next task later. Remember – it’s all a way to get you going and break you out of that dreadful procrastinatory paralysis.

I first heard about this idea from Annabel Sutton. She produces a great free email letter with really useful tips. I’ve found some fantastically useful ideas in her letter and in her  book 52 Ways To Change Your Life. If you want to subscribe to Annabel’s tips email with Subscribe Tips in the subject line to annabel@life-designs.co.uk

What actually prompted me to write this piece was happening upon a piece on productivity by Paul Dickinson of  Live without Work. I added a comment explaining the Egg Timer Game and Paul tried it, liked it and wrote a piece himself. He has some useful additional advice (and his blog has lots of other great ideas for imporoving productivity.

Have a go – and let me know how it goes!