Posts Tagged ‘multi-tasking’

A Faster Way To Clean Out

Cleaning out is often exhausting work — especially for those who haven't done it in a while. It's easy to walk into a room filled with clutter and become completely overloaded by the task at hand. You try to empty the whole space at once, don't even come close to finishing it all, and end up feeling like a failure  — will you ever be able to see the floor again? Rather than overdoing it (and subsequently paralyzing yourself with frustration and despair), why not set yourself up for success — by tackling just one small pile at a time? If you simply make use of those odd free moments (say, two or three times a day, every day for a week) — you will make a bigger dent in the mess than if you devoted your entire Saturday to sifting and sorting and cleaning out!

  • start a box of items to donate — every time you find something you don't need, toss it in
  • check your desk for dried up pens and markers and throw them out
  • sort through your Tupperware and remove any bowl or lid that's missing it's mate
  • try on clothes you haven't worn in the past year and get rid of anything that doesn't fit
  • gather up a pile of library books / rented videos and return them from whence they came
  • look through your shelves and pull books you'll never read again to donate to the library
  • clean the trash out of your junk drawer
  • remove the extra empty hangers out of your closet and take them to your dry cleaner
  • get rid of old or yucky makeup in your cosmetic drawer
  • put all those purchases you've been meaning to return in a box and schedule an errand day
  • pull out any torn / worn underwear and socks — either turn into rags or discard
  • toss empty bottles of household cleaners, car care items, and gardening chemicals in the garage
  • go through your magazines / catalogs and toss all but the most recent issue
  • throw out expired food from your refrigerator and pantry
  • sort through your recipes and toss those you're never going to get around to making
  • when you unpack your holiday decorations, discard broken ornaments, lights, candles, etc.
  • create a pile of borrowed items to give back to your friends and family
  • clean out batteries and light bulbs that no longer work
  • toss expired items, empty bottles, and used-up grooming supplies in your medicine cabinet
  • put all your “donates” in the car and drive them to the nearest charity drop-off point — now!

See how easy that was? Wink

Finding Balance

Let's start by determining exactly what “multi-tasking” is. Merriam Webster defines this as “the carrying out of two or more tasks at the same time by one person.” This kind of multi-tasking occurs, for example, when you're talking to someone on the phone while writing an article — or when you're adding up a column of numbers and also watching TV. I call this “consecutive multi-tasking,” and it's the sort of fractured mental activity that sets you up for guaranteed failure. Aside from “low load” behaviors that require very little attention and occur almost automatically, at a sub-conscious level without you thinking about them (like walking, talking, breathing, or chewing) — the human brain just wasn't built to do more than one thing at once (or at least do them well!)

The brain only has so much mental RAM to go around — so throughout the day, your capacity to focus is constantly being divvied up and re-apportioned among all the activities in which you are currently engaged at that moment. When you ask your mind to perform two or more activities that require a high level of conscious concentration (like reading, writing, listening, hands-on mechanical tasks, mathematics, or logistical analysis) at the same time, it's likely that you're trying to use more computing power than you actually have available — and your brain is going to end up overloading. Whenever you attempt to simultaneously engage in multiple “high load” behaviors like this, one of two things will happen. Either the brain will shut one activity out in favor of completing the other (this happens when you're trying to carry on a conversation while doing something else, and you find that you can't remember a word the other person has said!) Or if it does actually manage to struggle through both tasks, your brain is going to accomplish each more slowly than it would if allowed to focus fully on just one activity at a time. It's the same thing that happens with your computer — if you  tell it to run a search AND back up your documents AND perform a complex calculation at the same time, every task slows down to a crawl. And, as with your computer, concurrent multi-tasking is more likely to bring up an error message (or more likely, the “blue screen of death”) — you will find yourself making stupid mistakes, forgetting important information, and failing to fully complete a task when your mind is occupied with more than one thing at a time.

Stop Banging Your Head

But the dictionary also includes a definition of multi-tasking that is more in line with my way of thinking — “the interleaved execution of two or more jobs.” Interleaved — ooh, I like that word! This means “to perform two or more actions or functions in an ALTERNATING fashion” — working first on one, than switching to another, then switching back to the first again. I call this “consecutive multi-tasking,” and it's a great way to make progress on multiple goals while avoiding becoming bored, stuck, or blocked a project.

However, I'm not talking about the kind of mindless and unplanned bopping back and forth between activities that causes you to waste 3 hours surfing the web when you should be doing your bookkeeping. Wink Allowing your brain to become interrupted in the middle of a project, letting it lead you away from the task at hand toward another (usually less important) activity is “distraction,” not “multi-tasking.” It then takes time and mental energy for your brain to make the shift back into gear, to remember where you left off, and what you need to do next — that's when “multi-tasking” becomes unproductive.

But a planned shift from one activity to another (which occurs at a natural “stopping point” in your work and is accompanied by a few notes as a “memory jogger” to help you dive back in quickly when you return to that task) can often be the best possible thing for boosting your productivity and increasing your energy levels. Have you ever tried to force yourself to plow ahead with a project when you really just didn't have it in you to continue? Your brain is fried, you can't concentrate, and you're essentially banging your head against a wall — but dammit, you're going to “make” yourself get it done! Then you look up several hours later, only to find that you're still right where you started, and haven't made even one step forward during all that time.The better choice would be to walk away and do something completely different, giving your brain a chance to rest and re-charge. For example, let's say you're stuck trying to put together a proposal for a new client, and your thoughts just keep going in circles. So you quit what you're doing and devote a half hour to that pile of papers you've been needing to file. You're crossing an important to-do off your list, but using an entirely different part of your brain (giving the lobe that was starting to hurt a rest.) Of course, your mind will subconsciously continue to work on your proposal, while on a conscious level, you're busy accomplishing something else. Then when you finish that task and return to writing, you're seeing things with fresh eyes, and the words just slide out of your pen (or clack out of your keyboard, as the case may be.)

I use this technique myself all the time in order to stay productive throughout the day. If I try to spend 8 straight hours on any one type of task, I burn out much more quickly than if I mix things up — so I actively plan my day to include these sorts of shifts. I'll spend an hour writing a blog, then move on to some phone calls, then switch to color-correcting photos or even washing dishes, and back to writing again — but I'm still only ever doing ONE of these activities at a time. Consecutive, not concurrent — that's the key to success with multi-tasking!

A Faster Way To Get It All Done

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school and appointments) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have little control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. The trick to successful time management is making effective and productive use of “micro-moments” — little chunks of time scattered throughout your day, in-between the other bigger commitments. Instead of watching TV, why not get something meaningful accomplished? Any time you can cross a to-do off your list during one of these normally “wasted” periods of time, you're one step ahead of the game.
  • wrap and mail a gift you've been meaning to send off
  • pay the bills that have been sitting on the counter waiting for your attention
  • clean out a cabinet or a drawer that's been driving you up the wall
  • repair a ripped hem
  • respond to a couple of emails or return a few phone calls
  • set out your clothes for the next day
  • make tomorrow's lunch today
  • sew a missing button
  • tackle a small home “fix-it” project (tighten a screw, hang a picture, etc.)
  • do the dishes and wipe down the counters
  • run the vacuum or sweep the floor
  • throw a load of laundry in the washer or dryer
  • put away a pile of clutter that's been staring you in the face for too long
  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • reorganize your CDs or DVDs in categorical / alphabetical order
  • gather up outdated magazines and newspapers to put in the recycling

See how easy that was? Wink

A Faster Way To Clean

Cleaning day — what an old-fashioned notion! The idea that you should give up one entire day of your week for scrubbing and mopping might have been appropriate when folks didn't have jobs outside the house — but this system doesn't work so well with modern schedules. It's hard for busy families with working parents and afterschool activities and other responsibilities to fit in a whole day for housework. And when you work 9-5 Monday through Friday, you surely don't want to sacrifice your “off” days to chores. More importantly, there's no reason you should have to — if you stay on top of the dirt throughout the week. Each time you have a few free minutes, why not take care of one small cleaning job, rather than saving it all up? That way, you can finish your cleaning by the end of the week, leaving the weekend for fun!

  • wipe splatters and fingerprints off the bathroom mirrors
  • clean the ring out of the toilet and wipe down the seat
  • wipe down the bathroom counters
  • wash your bathroom rugs
  • wipe down the tub and shower walls with disinfectant
  • load your dishwasher and let it run while you do something else
  • empty your dishwasher and put the dishes away
  • wipe down the kitchen counters
  • clean the grease and food splatters off your stove top and vent hood
  • wipe down the inside shelves and veggie drawers of your refrigerator with disinfectant
  • empty your trashcans and take out the trash
  • put a load of laundry in the washer or dryer
  • fold some clean clothes
  • hang up your clean laundry
  • make your bed
  • change the sheets
  • vacuum, sweep, or mop in one room
  • dust one room (or if you have big rooms with lots of nick-nacks, just one shelf)
  • wash the windows in one room
  • go around the house with a lint roller or brush and clean pet hair off the furniture

See how easy that was? Wink

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink