Tag Archives: time management

The Danger of Multi-tasking

When Multi-tasking goes awry

    The Old Sailor

    There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew
    Who had so many things which he wanted to do
    That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
    He couldn’t because of the state he was in.

    He was shipwrecked, and lived on an island for weeks,
    And he wanted a hat, and he wanted some breeks;
    And he wanted some nets, or a line and some hooks
    For the turtles and things which you read of in books.

    And, thinking of this, he remembered a thing
    Which he wanted (for water) and that was a spring;
    And he thought that to talk to he’d look for and, keep
    (If he found it) a goat, or some chickens and sheep.

    He began on a needle, but he thought as he worked,
    That, if this was an island where savages lurked,
    Sitting safe in his hut he’d have nothing to fear,
    Whereas now they might suddenly breathe in his ear!

    So he thought of his hut… and he thought of his boat,
    And his hat and his breeks, and his chickens and goat,
    And his hooks (for his food), and the spring (for his thirst)…
    But he never could think which he ought to do first.

    And so in the end he did nothing at at all,
    But basked on the shingle wrapped up in a shawl.
    And I think it was dreadful the way he behaved —
    He did nothing but basking until he was saved!

        — A. A. Milne
        Now We Are Six

I’m not a focus-nazi who insists that you can never have more than one project going at a time. But multi-tasking can go too far.

Feeling Overwhelmed? 5 tips to help.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you have to do. Most of us are playing at least two (and possibly many more) roles in our lives: student, employee, parent, business owner… of course it’s hard to keep track of everything.

The long-term fix is to set up a good time-management solution that will help keep you from being overwhelmed. But in the short-term, how do you keep from getting buried under the work load?

Write it all down

I know this sounds counter-intuitive. You’re already overwhelmed, right? Why would you want to come face-to-face with the entire list?

It’s a little like losing weight or cutting down your debt: the first step is to figure out how bad of shape you’re in. And the good news is that you’re probably not in as bad of shape as you think. Most people can only hold 7 things in their mind at once, so we can’t tell the difference between a to-do list with 8 items and one with 20 items. Writing it down is the only way to tell exactly how ovewhelmed you are, turning your nebulous “too much to do” into a definite task list.

Sort it into two lists

Assign each task to one of two lists:

  • This must be done ASAP
  • This should be done soon, but it would be OK to wait for a bit.

My cousin is moving across the country in three weeks, and she was only informed of this a few days ago, so she has prior commitments still on her plate. Things like packing up their stuff, arranging for a moving van, and finding a new apartment have to be done before they move, and some of her prior commitments also have to be fulfilled; those go on the do-right-now list. But some of her prior commitments are to friends and family, who are happy to wait while she gets through this crazy-moving-time and settled down again. Those items go on the can-do-later list.

Assign a time frame to everything

Go down your do-right-now list and write an estimate of how long you think each item will take you. This doesn’t have to be a precise, scientific number (although if you have data to use, you’re certainly welcome to), just a guess as to how much time you think you’ll need.

Once everything has a time estimate, add up the total. Is it possible to do everything before the deadline?

Every time I’ve done this, it’s turned out that there’s plenty of time; usually I have twice as much time as I think I’ll need. But if it turns out that you literally don’t have enough time to finish everything on your to-do list, at least you’ll know. Forewarned and forearmed, you can go to your boss or your clients ahead of time and be honest with them:
“I’m very sorry, but something unexpected has come up, and I won’t be able to do such-and-such. What arrangements would you like to make?”
It’s a very scary conversation, and they might be angry with you. But… they’ll be much less angry than they would be in the conversation that starts off “I know I said I’d do that yesterday, but I didn’t.”

Prioritize

Even if you have plenty of time to finish your list, go through and put all your tasks in order of priority:

  1. If you could only get 1 thing done on this list, which should it be?
  2. If you could only get 2 things done on this list, which should they be?
  3. If you could only get 3 things done on this list….

This method makes use of your time estimates, but acknowledges the reality that things never go according to plan. If it turns out that your time estimates are off, at least you got the most important things done.

Prioritization can also be a great tool when you don’t have enough time to do everything on the list. Instead of going to your boss or client and saying, “I can’t do it”, you can go to them and say, “I can’t do everything, but I can do 20 hours’ worth. What would you like me to focus on?”

Work on it

Many people (I among them) respond to overwhelming task lists by freezing. The freeze-in-the-face-of-stress reaction makes sense if your stress is caused by a lion that hasn’t seen you yet, but it doesn’t help at all if you’re facing a huge to-do list. But still… you end up reading your favorite book for the 5th time, or watching Firefly for the 200th time, or playing on the computer, or chatting with a friend on the phone.

You have a trimmed-down, prioritized to-do list, and you’ve either notified people that you won’t be able to do everything or you’ve asked for help. Now pull out that list, look at the top item, and work on that thing.

Resources for Further Reading
(10+2)x5: a technique for doing things you hate
Combat Feeling Overwhelmed

The Wasted Week

“Organizing is what you do before you do something so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.” — A.A. Milne

So those of you who are regular subscribers may have noticed a significant shortage of posts on this blog last week. Like, there was only one post. Or 80% less than I should have done.

Here’s what happened: I didn’t do my weekly planning. Normally I sit down at the beginning of the week and look over my monthly goals, and figure out what I need to do for the week. Last week I didn’t do that.

That lack had several results:
1) I felt way stressed out. I knew there was stuff I needed to be doing, but I didn’t have it centralized into one location. I couldn’t tell whether I was keeping ahead of my tasks or not, because I didn’t have anything to compare to my accomplishments. So even when I did get something done, I didn’t know if that put me ahead or just less far behind.

2) I didn’t get much done Every time I sat down to do some work, I didn’t know what to do. Usually I have a piece of paper with everything I want to do for the week; when I start to work, I look down the list and pick something on it. By the end of the week, most everything’s crossed off. But since I didn’t have that list, I spent most of the week trying to figure out what I should do, instead of doing it. And my failure to get stuff done contributed significantly to the stress problem.

Lessons:

1) Planning really does help
I’ve been planning my months and weeks since August of last year, and a week with that level of productivity has become the new norm. But despite the fact that I don’t notice increased productivity anymore, it is still there. Productivity was significantly lower in the week I didn’t plan.

2) Get back up and try again
Although I missed out on most of a week, I have a new week starting today. And because I built leeway into my month’s plan, I won’t end up too far behind by the time we get to June.

Just like dieting, you’ll screw up sometimes. That doesn’t mean you should throw your diet out entirely; it means you should make sure you eat healthy the next day. Likewise, you won’t be productive every day or every week. Just make sure you get back into the groove the week after.

Take 9 Weeks Off

If you currently have a full-time job, it can be hard to find time to diversify your income stream. You’d love to do some side jobs, or write a book, or whatever, but how can you do that? You can’t get very much done on the weekends, after all.

What if you took 9 weeks off from your job? What if, for 9 weeks, you worked 40 hours a week on writing your book or building your website or creating information products? Do you think you could get another line of income up and running? You certainly could make significant progress on it.

Great plan, and I’m sure you’d love to, but you probably don’t have 9 weeks’ worth of vacation saved up. So what other options do you have?

Could you not watch CSI: Miami when you get home at night? Or cut down your time on Facebook by an hour? What if, instead of reading blogs every evening, you wrote a blog every evening?

An hour a day is a reasonably feasible goal for most people, especially since you don’t have to do it all at once. If you can get up 15 minutes early and do some research for your business, take 15 minutes of your lunch break to do some brainstorming, and half an hour in the evenings to implement your ideas, you’ve got an hour’s worth of work on your business.

Now here’s an interesting bit of math….

1 hour/day x 365 days/year = 365 hours/year
365 hours ÷ 40 hours/week = 9.125 work weeks

So an hour each day working on your monetization is the equivalent of a 9-week sabbatical.  And a lot more likely to happen.

Resources For Further Reading
21 Ways To Add More Hours To The Day
Live 25 Hours A Day