September 14, 2011

get your focus on


I am a notorious multitasker. Anyone in my office, from my office buddy to my bosses, will tell you that it's the norm to find me juggling multiple projects, answering e-mails, carrying on a phone conversation and instant messaging another person at the same time.

While having the ability to multitask has its benefits — like being able to walk and talk at the same time — it can also create problems. Why? It spreads a person's focus to thin. If you are like me and find yourself giving a little bit of attention to multiple tasks at the same time, you are unable to devote your whole focus, and mental ability, to accomplishing on to its fullest.

I preach this every day in the safety publications I produce at work. My articles constantly stress the importance of "avoiding mental vacations" or "paying attention to the task at hand" to ensure work gets done safely and efficiently. Drivers are also encouraged to devote their full attention to the road when they're behind the wheel and ignore distractions, such as cell phones and changing radio dial, for the same reason.

If this makes sense to me, why do I always distract myself with a dozen other tasks when it comes to working, writing or just about everything I do?

The answer is clear: I'm nuts and clearly like to make life more difficult for myself.

I took to the Interwebs to figure out how I could make myself stop my multitasking ways. Even accomplishing this was a challenge. I typed in the question, then checked my Facebook to see if any of my friends posted anything amazing I couldn't possibility go a few minutes without knowing. Then, I signed in to Twitter for the same reason. I switched back to my search tab and selected a promising link. While that loaded up, I picked up a book I started reading, today, and skimmed another page.

This was getting serious. I was distracting myself from researching ways to keep myself from being distracted.

"How NOT to Multitask — Work Simpler and Saner" on zenhabits.net was a winner. It provided these 11 great tips for focusing on individual tasks to get more work done:
•  Set up a to-do list.
•  Have a notebook to capture instant notes on what needs to be done.
•  Have a physical and e-mail inbox (the fewer the better)
•  Plan your day in blocks.
•  Accomplish your most important task first thing in the morning.
•  Turn off other distractions, such as Internet and cell phones.
•  Stop yourself when you feel the urge to switch to another task before the first is complete.
•  If something comes up, put it in your inbox and finish what you're working on.
•  Occasionally check your inboxes to add new tasks to your to-do lists.
•  If an incredibly urgent interruption comes up, make a note of where you were on the original project to help you return to it.
•  Take breaks as needed to refresh yourself.

While I already do some of these, such as keeping to-do lists and ranking priority levels, I should do a better job of staying focused. I'm going to make a point to better structure my time and avoid so much multitasking.

Who knows? I might be able to get more done.

What about you? Do you have any good tips for cutting down on distractions or avoiding the need to constantly engage others through texting, IMing, Facebooking, chatting, etc?

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