How often do you hear someone (or yourself) say: “I’m so busy,” only to then quickly add, “but it’s a good busy”? Busyness has become a sort of trend in the way we measure our career performance. It makes it sound like being overwhelmed and overcommitted is a good thing.
But the truth is that being busy and trying to multitask just isn’t an effective way to get things done. There are more distractions than ever these days — it’s a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous.
It’s hard to stay focused, especially when we’re always connected — by phone, email and text — but there are a few ways to go about it, to keep on a path that leads to what matters most to you.
Being committed to too many things, trying to multitask and accomplish it all at once just isn’t possible. Sure, we all think we’re good at multitasking and that we’re getting stuff done, but really, it’s just not a good way to manage and focus your efforts at work (or in life).
The more you multitask, the worse you become at it. It’s been shown that it is much more efficient to finish one thing and then move on to the next than it is to move back and forth between tasks.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that students who tried to complete difficult math problems were up to 40% slower when they had to pause and switch to other tasks. The study also found that multitasking increases stress and sparks a cycle — multitasking causes a delay, which causes stress, which then prompts more multitasking.
In another study, a psychiatrist at King’s College London monitored workers’ IQs during the day. The study revealed that people lost 10 IQ points when they attempted to multitask work and with messages.
Change Your Environment to Remove Distractions
There’s a café up the street from me that doesn’t have WiFi, and a friend of mine used to go work on her dissertation there specifically because of that. The internet is the most powerful distraction there is — sometimes it’s easier to remove the temptation than to rely on our willpower.
If you are trying to get something done, how can you make that easier? What can you change about your environment to make it less distracting? Maybe you’re like my friend and need to get away from WiFi, or maybe you need a clean space, void of visual distractions. No matter the change, make your environment the best possible place for getting work done.
Get Clear on Your Great Work
What is your Great Work? What do you love doing? What made you want to take on your current role? Get clear on what that Great Work is and what projects you’re working on that affect it. If you’re connected to that work, you’ll be more driven and more focused on what matters. In truth, we need to focus on our Good Work too, but getting clear on our Great Work helps us remember where our influence and focus are needed.
Take a Mindful Approach
There’s no better way to bring a sense of focus to your work than by practicing mindfulness. There are different ways to do this — meditation, for example — but whatever method you choose, mindfulness will help you build focus. Take a few minutes every morning (before you start your day) to implement a mindfulness practice. It won’t only help with focus — people with a mindfulness practice have high emotional intelligence, and they tend to like themselves and others more than do those without such a practice.
Stopping multitasking, reining in the distractions, remembering what matters to you and working toward that with a mindful approach are all essential actions that will get you where you want to go. It’s a VUCA world and you’re on a rocking ship, but you can navigate it.
Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner at Box of Crayons, a company that teaches 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. His most recent book, The Coaching Habit, has sold a quarter of a million copies. Michael is a Rhodes Scholar and was recently recognized as the #3 Global Guru in coaching. Visit BoxofCrayons.com for more information.
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