Updated on May 31, 2017
Does this sound familiar to any of you?
I need to clean the kitchen. I start to wipe down the counters, but there are some toys and papers left out that need to be put away. So I drop the papers off at my desk to deal with later, and then take the toys to my daughter’s room to put away.
Wow! Her room is a mess. I think I will tidy up her room really quickly. Oh no. She left her water cup in her room from last night. I better take that back to the kitchen.
Oh wait! That’s right, I am supposed to be cleaning the kitchen! Uh oh. There are a few more receipts sitting on the counter hiding behind the cereal box that need to be added to my pile of papers to file/deal with later.
I go back to the office to set down the papers. Look at that, I have 7 new notifications on Facebook. I will check those real quickly and then get back to the kitchen.
By now I have wasted a half an hour or more. The kitchen is not even remotely clean, my daughter’s room didn’t get completely picked up , and I have a stack of papers to deal with later that night.
This month we have been talking about how to get organized, starting with the basics. One thing many of us do is multi-task. We think we are getting so much done, but in reality we are most likely being less productive and not giving the areas in our life the attention they deserve.
If you have kids (or a spouse, or a roommate, or a pet, and the list goes on) it can be hard to focus your complete attention on any one thing at a time. And in our increasingly digital world of smartphones and computers, we have a constant bombardment of information, notifications, and distractions. When you multi-task, you are not giving any item you are working on 100% of your attention. Mistakes can happen and in most cases it will actually take you longer to get the job done.
My word of the year for last year was focus. Something completely unexpected happened when I started to not have five different things competing for my attention.
When I sat down to read a book, I read the pages and got lost in the words without having to re-read the same paragraph over and over.
When I checked emails (and only emails, and not Facebook or my blog) I could zip through them in a quarter of the time.
When I went in to clean the kitchen and focused on getting the job done, it took me about half the time.
But, my kids are constantly asking for things and interrupting me, you say! Another unexpected thing happened when I focused. I sat down to play with my kids and gave them my full attention (no checking my smartphone or emails), and we enjoyed our time together so much more. An added bonus was that if I gave my kids my full attention for a period of time, they were much more likely to give me the space I needed to get the other items on my list done.
Think about it. Have you ever gone out to dinner with a friend and they were constantly checking their phone? (Are you sometimes that friend? I know I am guilty of it at least on occasion.) How does it make you feel when you think someone is not really paying attention to you? Not very good, I would guess. We all crave interaction and feeling like we are being heard. This doesn’t happen when the other person can’t look up from the screen long enough to acknowledge we are talking!
How to stop multitasking
So how do you go about cutting down on multitasking? For me, the timer is my best friend. I have bookmarked this online timer. Any time I do anything online – check emails, blog, check social media, I set the timer for a specified period of time – usually 15 minutes. While the timer is going, I only focus on one task at a time.
Real life example: So let’s say I need to check emails. I now only check emails three times a day. This may sound like a lot to some of you, or maybe hardly any time at all to the rest of you! I set my online time for 15 minutes. I go through all the emails and process them as quickly as I can.
I have a folders set up labeled “pending” and “to do”. (This is in addition to a myriad of other folders set up for emails that need to be saved.) This way I can quickly get through all the emails and not get distracted. All emails either get deleted, immediately responded to, or filed in the appropriate folder. I have both a business email and a personal email. By using this system I can go through a full days worth of emails in one sitting.
The next time during the day I focus on emails, I don’t process any new emails, but I simply go through my ‘to-do’ folder and get anything done that I didn’t have time for earlier in the day.
Other than my three set times per day, I don’t check my email at all on any device. I am not in a business where anything is life or death, so if an email sits in my inbox for half a day, it is fine!
Tip: Stop using the multiple tabs in your web browser. Only have one tab opened at a time and focus on that particular web page. Close it and move on to the next!
I do the same thing for Facebook (and other social media) as I do for emails. I can get pretty sucked in, and find myself mindlessly checking it throughout the day. It has actually become a pretty bad habit. I now try to use my timer and only allow myself to check it a certain number of times per day and that is it!
Tip: Turn notifications off (or at least mute them) on your smartphone or device. Constantly hearing that ding at all times throughout the day can be extremely distracting.
How to use a timer to clean and organize
When I am cleaning or trying to get an organizing task done at home, I also use a timer. Most ovens and microwaves have them. If you are doing something away from your kitchen, use the timer on your phone or simply purchase an inexpensive portable timer
Start by grabbing a trash bag and another basket or box. Put any items that you find that belong somewhere else in the house in the basket as you go. Do NOT leave the task at hand! Set your timer and go. Get as much done as you can in that period of time. This make you more effective because you are only doing one thing at once. And, I find I am also motivated to beat the clock and I get even more done. Once the timer goes off, take out the trash and return the items from the basket to where they go.
Focusing on tasks rather than jumping around from task to task will help you get more done in a shorter period of time.
Today’s challenge: Focus on only one task at a time for the entire day. See how much more you are able to accomplish.
* Health.com: 12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now!
* Harvard Business Review: How and Why to Stop Multitasking
Are you a multi-tasker? Do you feel like you are getting a lot done? Tell me about it in the comments!