Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Try Doing One Thing at a Time

Virgil Carter

Are you feeling overworked and overscheduled in our multi-tasking world?  Have you gotten to the point where “multi-tasking” is not a positive term?  Writer Tony Schwartz describes this situation in a recent Harvard Business Review blog network article, “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time”. 
“Why is it that between 25% and 50% of people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work?” he questions.  “It's not just the number of hours we're working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time.”
With great perception Schwartz notes, “What we've lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It's like an itch we can't resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.”
But there’s even greater effect on our human resources.  Norris goes on to point out, “But most insidiously, it's because if you're always doing something, you're relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.”
So what can we do?  And what steps can our organizations take to support higher productivity and more innovative thinking?  Norris suggests three policies worth promoting:
      Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you'll be. When you're done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

·          Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically. If you don't, you'll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity — preferably one that's relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.

·          Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you're off, you're truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you'll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

What’s the lesson learned?  It’s to engage in work by being fully engaged for defined periods of time.  And when one is renewing one’s energy, really renew.  Try doing one thing at a time!

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