Stop multitasking, start planning

Bodum French PressWhen you watch television, how many of you actually sit through to watch all the tv commercials? Probably not many of you. Instead, you’d most likely use that time to walk around, check your phone, or even make a quick trip to your bathroom. If you’re quick enough, you might even post a quick tweet on your phone or even stop by the kitchen to grab some snacks before the show comes back on. And in many ways, productivity can work pretty much the same way.

Instead of doing one thing at a time, we tend to get more done if we combine some of the similar tasks together.

For example, I like to start my day at work by making my own cup of coffee every day with my french press. It’s not that I’m a coffee snob or that my coffee stash is any better (despite what my colleagues may think), but more so the fact that it’s been my morning ritual for years to getting ready for the day’s work. Problem is, the hot water switch needs to be turned on every day and it usually takes a minute or two before the water is fully heated up.

I could come into the office, drop my bag, grab my french press, head to the kitchen and turn on the hot water switch. But then I’d just be waiting there for the water to heat up. Or, I can easily shave off that extra minute if I head to the kitchen first and flip on the switch before going to my desk. By the time I drop my bag, turn on my computer, and return to the kitchen, the hot water is all ready to go.

It’s multitasking at its core, and we intuitively do this every day. In fact, it’s so simple, you might wonder why I’m even writing about this. Duh! Everyone should know this, right?!

Well the reason I’m writing about multitasking is exactly that — it’s becoming so ingrained in our daily lives that it might be too intuitive for our own good! While multitasking is all about consolidating and doing multiple things at once, it’s only productive if these actions are things you plan to do in the first place.

Most of us have our phones within arm’s reach. More of us have Outlook or Facebook running in the background while we work. But as important as it is for us to stay on top of things, these e-mail and Facebook alerts are not actually productive because these tasks are not planned by you. In fact, they are distracting and are likely to be in the way from your otherwise undivided attention.

Multitasking, and productivity in general, only works when you put yourself in the driver’s seat. You’re in charge of what needs to get done, and not the other way around. In my coffee routine example, the hot water is heated in the kitchen waiting for me, not the other way around. Multitasking isn’t so much about doing more things in less time, but more about planning ahead to group together similar tasks before even taking action.

Here are some of the things I need to do today:

  • Do laundry
  • Work on this blog post
  • Coffee (in order to get anything done!)
  • Shop for groceries

So here’s what I did: I went to my usual laundromat early in the morning to avoid the dreadful LA traffic. This particular laundromat is pretty nice and offers free coffee, so I can use the time to soak in the caffeine and work on this blog post while washing and drying my clothes. And on top of it all, it’s blocks away from Trader Joe’s. Four birds, one stone.

But more than simply consolidating four to-do things into one, I minimized my distractions by silencing my phone and being in a public place, miles away from my PS3 with no Facebook or Outlook alerts in sight. Only then was my focus placed front and centered and be able to finish this very blog post.

What is on your to-do list today and how can you streamline those items by planning ahead? How can you identify and cut through the distractions so you can focus and actually multitask? Let me know by leaving a comment below (comments don’t write themselves y’know!) or hit me up on Twitter @vdot90!

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