“From Burnout to Superman Productivity” Series: Tip 1
You feel overwhelmed, tired and stressed. You don’t get important things done. The to-do list is growing every day. You are multitasking to “save” time. When it gets really bad, you feel burned out and completely lose your motivation. If you empathise with the situation, don’t panic… there is a solution!
Previously my life was chaotic and there was no end to the firefighting. I often found myself completely exhausted after a day’s work and with no sense of accomplishment.
I even had this conversation with my daughter Fiona.
Fiona: Daddy can you change job?
Me: Why do you want me to change job?
Fiona: You are always tired. I don’t want you to be tired.
Fiona: You can drive the Japanese children to school and then come back early.
The Japanese school was only 500 meter from our home (at the time) so she thought I would get an easier job and be less exhausted at night. Not a bad idea! J But I never took up the job offer from my little girl. Instead I found a way to cope with my hectic life.
Through what I term the “From Burnout to Superman Productivity” series, I will share the few tips that have helped me to manage my time (and myself) better
Task switching is one of the worst productivity killers. If you have to change one thing to improve your productivity and wellbeing – this is it!!
What is Task Switching?
Task switching involves the ability to shift attention between one task to another. This ability allows a person to rapidly and efficiently adapt to different situations. This sounds good right?
NO! TASK SWITCHING IS NOT GOOD! Why? Because…
1) You can only conduct one mental activity at a time.
2) If you do a lot of task switching in a day, it can be very costly.
And it gets worse…
3) This is especially apparent if the task is complex.
Joel Spolsky describes the task switching for programmers:
“Task switches take a really, really, really long time. That’s because programming is the kind of task where you have to keep a lot of things in your head at once. The more things you remember at once, the more productive you are at programming.”
In fact, a 2001 research by Professor David E. Meyer has shown that even brief mental blocks by shifting between tasks can lead to a 40 percent “waste” in productivity.
I find that task switching can be very costly for my performance for two main reasons:
- The mental resources required to change “context” from one task to another can drain my energy and cause unhealthy stress over time.
- Every disruption requires a new “start-up” time to get in to the flow.
To minimize this waste it’s very important to do “one thing at time” and avoid attention shifting at any cost. This is especially important in activities that need your full attention (e.g. reading, writing, problem solving, programming)
This is what works for me.
1) Schedule “focus” time
I have started to schedule “focus” time outside the office. I often start the day in a coffee shop alone to have time to clear off some high priority items on my action list.
If you are unable to schedule high priority work outside the office, you must find an undisturbed environment in the office. Some people schedule time early in the morning to complete high priority task before their colleagues arrive in the office. Or find a way to limit distractions. Reduce noise with headphones if you find that works for you.
Your organization (or your team) should agree on rules for when you have “focus time” and when you can be disturbed.
What’s important is that you MUST find this “focus” time for tasks that require your full attention.
2) Schedule “collaboration” time for social interactions
Collaboration matters in any business.
I schedule “collaboration” time everyday when I’m in the office where I expect to be interrupted. My time is predefined for meetings or social interactions.
I hardly do any planning, reading or writing that needs my full attention in the office. Since this time is scheduled, I don’t feel stressed when I get interrupted.
Note: don’t use this time to disturb other people’s focus time!!
3) Ban technology from meetings
If you have decided that a meeting is important enough for you to attend, then by all means you must give it your full attention.
Put your phone on silent and focus on the meeting.
4) Schedule time for digital interactions
Emails, social media and mobile messaging applications can make your job easier and more productive. Unfortunately, being “connected” all the time also comes with unwanted side effects.
We waste time and attention on relatively unimportant digital distractions. This is bad for our productivity. Even worse, it can lead to increased stress levels and serious health problems.
My solution has been to avoid checking emails, text messages and social media other than on predefined time slots. I will discuss this in more detail in a future post.
Everyday brings surprises so you can’t avoid taking on some task switching occasionally. But by using the simple tips above, you will be able to avoid many ad-hoc and time consuming interruptions that destroy your daily schedule, productivity and wellbeing.
Be a “single-tasker”!
Is task switching a problem for you? What do you do to reduce the “waste” from task switching? Do you discuss the problem of task switching in your organization?