For the longest time, I thought I was a decent multi-tasker.
But recent research shows that we are incapable of multi-tasking. At best, we are task-switching, performing each task less proficiently simultaneously than if we focused on each task individually.
Unfortunately, there is a side effect to "multi-tasking" that I still deal with today.
I forget to finish.
It starts with my to-do list. I’m in a groove, say filing paperwork, until I get distracted. This time it's a note reminding me to call someone. I decide to immediately call instead of completing the paperwork. During the phone conversation, we remember that I wanted to sign up for a new type of exercise class. When I get off the phone, instead of going back to filing, I look up when the exercise class is offered at the gym. But the calendar beeps about my next appointment and I do not register for the class. By the time I return to my desk, I am stuck trying to finish all of the tasks I left undone.
Same thing happens at home. I get home, start a load of laundry, pull out the ingredients for dinner, prepare for the next day, and so forth. When I finally sit down to relax with a book, I realize I forgot to put the clothes in the dryer, tomorrow’s outfit isn’t ironed, and the leftovers are still out on the counter.
Maybe you understand my plight?
Yep, even organized people have habits to uproot. Instead of leaving remnants of little projects and tasks almost complete, I should work do the task until it is done. I have to fight to finish. I battle to not be distracted by distractions. I battle to stay focused when so many other things seem more urgent or more important than what I am doing at the moment.
Now, I know I was never a multi-tasker. It costs us time and energy to go from one thing to another and back again. Our quality of work suffers because we are not giving 100% to one thing, but 50% to a lot of things. By halfway doing some things, we can fail to finish a lot of things.
Think back to a time when multiple people were talking to you at once. Did you find it hard to focus? Either you listened to one person and blocked out the others or you chose not to listen at all. Our brains work best when focused. If inundated with too many options, we get confused. If we are over stimulated, we shut down. If we are easily distracted, we leave things undone.
Remember that one of the key rules to being organized is to complete the task and put it back. As I said then, it is so simple, yet elusive. Starting today, I own my tendency to let distractions lead me astray and will work harder to stay focused.
How do you stay focused? What habits or tips have helped you keep distractions at bay? All ideas are welcome!