Are you multi-tasking yourself right out of time?

Busy. No doubt about it. We are busy. Life for most of us seems to run at an ever increasingly frantic pace.

photo by: julianlimjl http://flickr.com/81747959@N00/4598412264

So much to do. People to see. Responsibilities to fulfill. Commitments to keep. Relationships to manage. Children to raise. Bills to pay. Clients need attention. Prospects need coaxing. The to-do’s keep multiplying.

We yearn for more energy, good food, healthy bodies, clear heads, happy hearts, encouraging opportunities, stimulating conversations, and so much more. Completion. Satisfaction. Success. Freedom. Ease. Peace.

Oh, I hear you … and a restful Sleep!

And you know what?

We deserve the best of what life has to offer. All of us. Each of us. Every day.

The multi-tasking dilemma

Often, as we try to get more done in the same amount of time, like a circus juggler we attempt to keep more of our do-this balls active and airborne. Our focus shifts from ‘what really needs to be accomplished by when’ to ‘how many things can we tackle at once’. We wonder if we can reach another ball and slide it into rotation.

We’re excited by the prospect of crossing more tasks off the list, while at the same time fearful they’ll all come crashing down around us.

We focus on the DOING rather than the GETTING DONE

Multi-tasking our way through the hours we’re temporarily lulled into a sense of implied accomplishment. But at end of the day we discover we haven’t really made much headway on anything of importance. Nothing that counts as a next step towards the destination we want to reach. Worse, what we had expected to finish is still airborne as if trapped in a time warp, leaving us feeling more overwhelmed, frustrated and stuck than before.

Multitasking is the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time. ~ Author Unknown

I’m reminded of one of the habits Stephen R. Covey illuminated in his best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Begin with the end in mind.

When our focus is on ‘how many things can we tackle at once’ we are not beginning with the end in mind.

Mindful multi-tasking

Now, I’m not about to tell you that you should never multi-task. Mindful multi-tasking is a marvelously effective and efficient technique. It’s something I teach my clients to consciously consider and implement as one method of reducing overwhelm.

Mindful multi-tasking is not, however, juggling a random assortment of tasks.

When you mindfully multi-task you do as Covey suggests. You literally begin with the end in mind.

Consider what on your to-do list could be done within a set time frame with minimal attention from you. Then pair it with another task that fits within that time frame but requires more of your direct action and attention.

Here are two good examples of mindful multi-tasking:

Throw in a load of laundry before sitting down to check social media and email. Take break to move laundry from washer to dryer. Continue with another admin type task, such as paying bills.

Plan ahead for ‘wait’ times in your day, such as being placed on hold, waiting for print, copy jobs or computer downloads/uploads to finish. Anticipate what you can easily accomplish during those moments that occasionally turn into minutes. With the proper supplies at hand you could: write a thank you note, enter a couple new contacts in your database, record yesterday’s business expenses, do some simple filing, review your prospect or tickler file, dust your monitor screen and keyboard, do some stretching exercises.

Muddled multi-tasking

However, don’t fall into the trap of muddled multi-tasking. Don’t mix tasks that require clarity of thought and focus.

For instance, don’t try to edit a document while listening to your friend update you on her latest relationship crisis. Both will suffer from your lack of attention. Don’t start the end of the month bookkeeping reconciliation when you need to make an important call in 3 minutes. Don’t try to knock out a 1,200 word article draft due tomorrow and check your email every 5 minutes and stop to answer the phone and …. Well, you get the picture.

Don’t mistake busy for productive.

And, for heaven’s sake, stop muddled and ineffective multi-tasking as a way to hide procrastination!

Come on. You know what I’m talking about.

Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below:

  • What muddled multi-tasking have you fallen victim to?
  • What mindful multi-tasking tips can you share that have helped you be more efficient and effective getting things done?

And, as always, feel free to post a question or request feedback or help solving a problem that makes you feel overwhelmed, frustrated and stuck. You don’t have to travel alone.

If you prefer, you can send me a private message using the Contact form here.
photo by: julianlimjl

18 comments on “Are you multi-tasking yourself right out of time?

  1. My favourite mindful multi-tasking: beading while listening to a teleclass or podcast. The beading flows more beautifully and I don’t zone out and get distracted by things with words (like Facebook!)
    Hugs and butterflies,
    ~Teresa~

  2. I was browsing through the Ultimate Blog post challenge and saw your headline and had to read what you wrote. I had to laugh and now my head on so much of what you said! It is amazing how much I try to get done. I need to stop focusing on so many projects and just pick the ones that are important to me.

    • Hi April,
      Thanks for taking time to read and share your comment. Isn’t it amazing how often we forget that trying to do too much all at once usually backfires? LOL. Also, I’m delighted to learn about the 90 Day Product Creation Challenge. New one to me!

  3. QUALITY, not quantity. Though it’s so hard to figure out where we can invest time in the quality of the project when we have SO DARN MUCH TO DO.

    I love your advice about qualifying your tasks in order to prioritize the right amount of attention to them. It is all about strategizing your energy and focus, right? I love your post. This is great!!!

    • Delighted that you found my post useful, Mae. It’s so easy to get trapped in the busy-ness of life and lose focus on doing what’s really important to us. I think you’ll enjoy some of the other posts here, too. Looking forward to connecting and future networking possibilities.

  4. Great post and I relate to what you are say as a mammoth multitasker who is on a new program to break the- complete the task at hand , tick it off, have a reak and start on the next one- not so easy :)

    • Oh, Suzie, I agree … not so easy! Yet I have friends who are obviously wired differently than I am who have no trouble staying on track with one thing at a time. It helps to recognize and own our differences, then make the changes to accommodate them. Thanks for adding your comment to this discussion.

  5. I feel we admire people who look busy so we all try to do that. Constantly checking our emails because that’s what successful people do. Just keeping a simple daily and weekly to-do list can add wonders to your accomplishments. Nice post!

  6. This was great Kathy! Just like all your advice, it’s practical and easy to apply… if you choose to ;-)

    I’m a list maker… I love my day planner. These are what me keep me on track… although I do sway occasionally!

    My life on our produce farm, farmers market, home and family life and now writing, keeps me very busy. I’ve found that list making is even more critical.

    May is always a busy month for us on the farm an b/c I didn’t prepare for it, I got zero writing assignments done. With some forethought I should have prepared several article in advance so I could still have posted on my blogs and sent in submissions. I learned from that mistake and will definitely think ahead of the game for next year.

    What I’ve done to help is, I started keeping a schedule of what and when I want to write/publish. This has helped immensely!

    Thanks again!

    • Jean, you bring me back to my own early freelance and local reporter writing days while I was also working full-time on the family dairy farm and raising kids. Without planning ahead, some list-making, and being prepared to take advantage of any “off” days that popped up (like during stormy weather) I would never had time to write and publish as much as I did.

      You continue to amaze me with the quality of your writing and photos, not too mention how much you accomplish on the farm, selling at farmer’s markets, raising kids, as well as being active in your community and with special groups, like our local Words Work Writing Workshop where you started as a student of mine!

  7. With the new generation of graduates. I find spending an increasing amount of time telling them two things.
    1. Focus
    2. Do one thing at a time.
    Great article.
    DocLou

    • Louis, I’d love to know more about the behavior trends you find among the current generation of graduates. What exactly are they trying to multi-task or have trouble focusing on?

      With my 17 year old nephew and his high school senior buddies, it’s never ending text messaging and a constant stream of iPod music in their ears. Bothers me a lot that so many are afraid of moments of silence. Do they never want a break to think for themselves?

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come again and share your input.

      • Kathy,
        There are many. Here is my latest experience. I visited a university a few weeks ago to do some hiring. I decided to go early, hang out on campus and see how the university changed over the years (mind you, a Jesuit University that I graduated from). Here is my first shocker.
        In between classes, like clockwork, almost to the second, all 2,800 students in sync pick up their smart phones and have to talk, instant message or text their friends about what they missed during the last 45 minutes as they go from one class to the other.

        The second which is kind of sad was a young female who seemed professional and was a recent MBA graduate who still had not landed her first job but had seven (yes 7) years of unpaid internships with a 3.7 GPA. She was highly recommended by the dean and I have seen her work since she interned for some of my clients. So here we go.

        During the interview, she kept having to read her text messages and more during the interview. I asked her to turn of the phone or after three more distractions I would not be able to hire her. Her response.

        I am sorry but I have to be totally connected, especially since their is a business event sponsored by an alumni, my friends are already in and I cannot afford to miss out on what is happening. Now comes the sad part.

        The MBA graduate did not realize that I am that alumni who sponsored the invent and she is now interning for free at companies that are not my clients who were all at the event.

        Kathy, we have a generation of people who are addicted to non useful communications and are no longer hire able by profitable established businesses.

        DocLou

        • Doc Lou, thanks for taking time to share some details. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. I fear that young female student will soon be getting a second master’s degree from the School of Hard Knocks. It’s pretty easy to guess why she’s not landed her first job yet. Good example of someone not being present in the moment. What a shame.

  8. Procrastinate. Moi? Never *ahem*
    I do try and practice ‘mindful multi-tasking’ which is a great productivity tool when you’re working from home. I have found that if I am concentrating I really need to turn off social media though.

    • Oh, I hear you, Sharon. I connect so often to my clients and prospects with social media (in particular Facebook and LinkedIn) that it’s sometimes too easy to convince myself that I’m ‘working’ rather than procrastinating. I’m finding that, like you, I must turn off SM to focusing on other projects and tasks. The best way I’ve discovered so far to handle that is to allow myself quick 5 minute social media bursts three times a day. I do the morning one from my smart phone so it’s just a quick check for private messages.

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