Switchtasking

I recently attended an education event (EO Alchemy). One of the speakers was time management guru Dave Crenshaw. Another speaker was monk Dandapani.

Between the two of them, they drove home a message to me that I could not and cannot ignore.

I am an expert at being distracted. I am an expert of doing 3408 things in one day. I am an expert at doing most things so-so and only a few things with excellence. And, the scary thing is, you probably are too!

Do I get a lot done every day? Heck to the yes I do. But, supposedly, I can do more in a day if I focus on one thing at a time. “Hi. I’m Anne-Marie and I am an expert at ‘switchtasking.‘”

Switchtasking

It’s not ‘multi-tasking’, it’s switching tasks with alarming rapidity. Quick! Do an email! Quick! Research for a blog post! Quick! Review these 10 possible Christmas scents! Quick! Talk to the Brambleberrian that stopped into your office for a “fast question”. Quick! Sign these 16 checks. Everything I’ve been doing for the last couple of years has been on hyperdrive, hyperfast. There is little focus time built into my day as I try to manage my (thankfully!) growing company. Sure, I do my annual planning day. Sure, we do our monthly planning. But that’s 4 hours out of every month. What’s going on with the additional 156 work hours?

Dandipani pointed out that the world’s best athletes train 8 hours a day to complete a race that might be over in 8 seconds. He further pointed out that if all we are training ourselves to do every day is Pavlov-dog switch every time we hear the ‘ding’ of an incoming message on our phone, the ‘chime’ of a new email or the siren call of the latest trending YouTube video, we have practiced ourselves into becoming experts on being distracted.

Dave Crenshaw put it this way (paraphrase): There is never a time that it’s okay to switchtask or multitask. When is there ever any time in your life when you want to do something more slowly, make more mistakes and not pay attention to the task or the person in front of you?

Duh. Never!

So, (deep breath), I’ve put on my ‘focus pants’ at work and I’m starting to work the way I used to: in big chunks of time. I am deliberately not getting sucked into the internet (oh no! there are cute cat photos that may go unseen!). And, I have made these intentions clear to my team members. We’ve even started brainstorming how to batch our questions for eachother so we don’t continually interrupt each other throughout the day. According to Dandipani, it takes effort and conditioning to work in chunks of focus.

The thing I need to keep reminding myself is that this – Bramble Berry, Soap Queen, Teach Soap, Soap Queen TV, Otion – all of it is worth the extra amount of effort it is going to take to retrain my brain to work in focus chunks and hours. After all, what’s that phrase? ‘You have to do what others won’t to get what others have.’ Up until now, I didn’t realize how much I had slipped into inefficient switchtasking at work. Consider me bonked on the head with the information and ready to tackle this head on. Hopefully, come next year, I’ll be the zen master at focus time. Or at least able to work on 1 task for two hours without feeling the need to click on the latest internet meme or LOLcat.

26 Responses to “Switchtasking”

  1. Sonya says:

    Thanks for sharing..I hope to do the same..it so easy to get distracted :0)

  2. inspiration says:

    Thank you Anne-Marie for sharing this wonderful post. I was wondering when the first post would arrive about your experience @Alchemy. Now I have the first morsel. THX

    • Anne-Marie says:

      That was definitely my biggest take-away. I’ve really seen improvements since I started working this way – and I’ve gone back to my little notebook and to-do lists that are written down. AND, no news sites during the day … =)

  3. Aura says:

    One of my best mentors at work (I’m a maintenance planner by trade) always said that you got more done doing one task at a time. At least when that single task was done it was one less irritated client. Doing them all at once, nothing got finished, things would slip and not only the clients would get irritated but you as well. Many years of following that advice later: work on that FOCUS!!!! It really does make an amazing difference. (Even soaping becomes more fun when a batch is the only thing that exists for that hour or two).

    • Anne-Marie says:

      It totally makes a difference in the few weeks I’ve been trying it. I really like it – but I know that I’m prone to backsliding under stress so I need to just keep it up! =)

  4. Rebecca says:

    Great post! As I was reading it – my email chimed and I went to “quickly” check it until I caught myself. Perfect way to start my week – focused!

    • Anne-Marie says:

      I turned off all my alerts on my phone except for actual phone calls and calender appointments. No text message dings. That really has helped with work flow interruptions.

  5. Linda L. says:

    I have an associate who only checks his email twice during the work day and never outside it. Not only does he find he works more efficiently that way but I see myself restricting what I send him via email. If it’s urgent, I can always pick up the phone and reach him.
    It was hard to adjust to at first but it does make a lot more sense than dropping everything when a machine ‘pings’ at you.

    • Anne-Marie says:

      That’s the 4 Hour Work Week way (a la Tim Ferriss). It doesn’t work for me b/c I’m essentially in a customer service industry for my work but I can see where it would be doable for many professions.

  6. Tracy/Aiya says:

    Thank you, I needed this push! I would love to of heard their speach it sounds really motivational! I will try really hard to stay more focused this week, my finals are coming YIKES!

  7. Marion says:

    Thanks for bonking me over the head as well.I totally realized, how much more I could get done without all the distraction.I had no Internet for a while and as much as it drove me crazy, I got more done.

    • Anne-Marie says:

      Oh yeah, I’ve read about internet and device free weekends. More and more professionals are doing it and it seems like a really interesting idea. I’m not ready to “let go” (I check the BB FB/Twitter/blog/instagram/social media stuff multiple times per day) quite that much but I will grudgingly admit I 100% see the value.

  8. This is utterly true! It’s so easy to get distracted.

    During a natural dye class that I attened last year, we were all bombarding the teacher with insistent questions. I could see her becoming more and more distracted as she tried to keep up and answer each person’s question.

    Finally my friend, a teacher, suggested that people write their questions on the chalk board and the teacher could answer them in sequence. It worked fairly well and it quieted the ebergy in the room a bit too.

    Thanks for sharing. The Bramble Baby would prefer a little calm too I think!

    • Anne-Marie says:

      When I teach, I try really hard to get people to keep their questions to the end. Often, I cover what they’re asking anyways in the course of my presentation but yes, it 100% throws me off.

      Bramble Baby would LOVE calm. This one is keeping me more tired than the last one so maybe s/he does really want peace and quiet!

  9. Eva says:

    Thank you for sharing this information. I always feel a need to multitask because it seems to be so much to do all the time. And I do feel I’m not giving my best to the more important tasks because of shifting so often. I’m going to try and apply this new information and work harder to focus on one task at a time, and complete it before moving to another. I strongly believe in self-improvement and self m.powerment. Thanks again Anne-Marie!

    • Anne-Marie says:

      I know what you mean – my days are so filled with so many tiny tasks and interruptions so it’s hard to stay focused on just one thing. The plus is that I naturally do the Covey method of planning my week so I’ve just been really religious about planning my days too with stuff written down in a notebook. And then systematically going down that list and just knocking stuff off of it.

  10. Mildred says:

    I totally understand this and it’s something I really needed reminding of right now. I remember reading something years ago; Do only one thing at a time and do it as it’s the most important thing at that moment. I am para phasing; I don’t speak like a Zen Monk, but I really admire them. So Thanks Anne Marie, for reminding me; I need it getting ready for a Craft Bazaar. I found a like that I thought I would share, it’s a short read but very helpful.

    http://zenhabits.net/12-essential-rules-to-live-more-like-a-zen-monk/

  11. Realmccormick says:

    I have an issue with your new epiphany, Anne-Marie. That’s fine that some people can do the same thing until they finish it, like accountants, atheletes, etc., but as a teacher/Art Teacher, I can say that the CREATIVE brain does not logically flow linearly (like a line)!!! We all learn and process our information differently, and work differently, and there may be better ways to do certain tasks, but if your mind doesn’t do it that way, then it will probably be a frustrating endeavor. While you are switch-tasking as you call it, or multi-tasking, your subconscious brain is still working on solutions for the task that you haven’t yet completed. That’s why when you stop doing one thing, and take a break, then come back to it, you can sometimes get it done in minutes after getting away from it. You weren’t physically there working on the problem, but other parts of your brain were. You may just feel rushed, because you’re in a rushed atmosphere, and it’s going to be like that…After 8 years of trying to maintain order while switching tasks with 30 kids, there are some processes that just don’t ever reach perfection, you just have to accept it as it is, and stop thinking that if you were better at it, you could control it better.It is what it is…Micro-management is something I think that women especially think that they can eventually master, but I think that sometimes we just have to LET GO at some point, and stop trying to make everything happen as we want it to…That’s the definition of CRAZY, and it will make anybody CRAZY if you try to control too much!!!!

    • Anne-Marie says:

      I completely understand where you’re coming from. And as the mother of a small toddler, I can’t imagine trying to teach 30 kids and get them to stay on task.

      Focus is something that takes practice and trying to ask children to do it is probably asking for a mortally difficult task for a teacher.

      However, for a professional adult like yourself, I’m wondering if certain things, like planning lesson plans or grading projects, would be better done in giant chunks of focus time?

      =)

  12. Marcy says:

    I think most people find themselves operating in this “switch-tasking” way these days. I know I did when I worked in an office environment. It drove me crazy not to be able to concentrate on any one thing because of constant interruptions. I find that if I have 10 things that need to be done right away, it’s easier to do them one at a time. That way, you have one less thing to worry about once that one thing is completely done. But, you also need to make time for breaks so you can refresh.

    • Anne-Marie says:

      Especially the way some offices are structured – the open office plans definitely invite mega interruptions. =)

      You bring up a good point re: breaks. We’ve been trying to do breaks every 1 hour, just to stand up and walk someplace (bathroom, water cooler etc…) after all the studies have been coming out re: sitting for long periods of time hurting your health…

  13. Susan says:

    Hi Anne-Marie,

    Gosh you hit the payload with this post! Do you mind if I share with my team at work? We all seem to be switchmasters; missing deadlines and not fully completing our deliverables because we are too busy being connected to everything all the time and interrupting each other on our quest to be plugged in…funny how counterproductive we turn out to be!

    Thank you for reminding me that delayed gratification also has its rewards ~

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