Turns out we suck at multitasking.
Like, all of us.
Yes, even those of us with kids who just have to do 10 things at once in the hope of getting everything on their to-do list done for the day.
Stanford University research confirms that not only do we struggle to filter out distractions around us but we also don’t switch well from one subject to another. Instead, our brains are thinking about the task that we should be doing or were previously doing before we stopped part-way to start a new one.
We all do it.
We watch TV while checking our emails.
We talk on the phone while filling out our kid’s permission slip.
We speak to a client while planning out what’s for dinner.
And you know what? We totally suck at it.
Fear not, I have a plan. A plan to help you concentrate and complete only one thing at a time.
I’m a big reader and honestly, I think it’s the only thing I do where I am actually 100% focussed on just one thing. Which is lucky really because I have recently finished reading (for a second time) a fantastic book called The One Thing by Gary Keller.
This book has been nothing short of a revelation for me which is strange really, because, I think we already know this stuff.
We know we try to multitask way too much.
We know that our to-do list grows every single day and only the quick and easy few ever make it off there.
We know that there are more important things we should be doing, that will undoubtedly bring us value but we never seem to get around to them.
There is another way people.
At the start of the book, Gary talks about the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle. You know the one that asserts that a minority of tasks usually lead to the majority of results, outputs or rewards.
This is not a new concept at all but what The One Thing does is take it a few steps further.
If you’re like me and can get totally overwhelmed with your to-do list, not knowing where to start and ending up just doing a little piece of everything that really just gets you pretty much nowhere, then this technique could be for you and I swear, it is changing my life.
So, what is the magic I hear you ask – well it’s so simple, it’s actually brilliant.
Made a list of all your to do’s. I like to make 2 lists actually. Yes! I know we are talking about doing only one thing but hear me out.
My first list is for all the small stuff like put the washing on, make the bed, put the rubbish out etc. My second list includes all the bigger stuff like getting my accounts up to date, write this blog post, paint the bathroom etc.
Now, take the list with all the bigger projects and chose your top 20% of tasks that will give you the most rewards.
- Which tasks will add the most value? Like writing a blog post now to build your readership, create a business and hopefully longer term allow you give up your day job.
- Which tasks, when done will avoid other tasks further on down the track – getting your accounts up to date now vs filing late and having to pay a penalty fee. Getting the car to the mechanics as soon as you hear that noise vs catching the bus for a week when it finally gives out and costs you many hundreds of dollars more because you didn’t get onto it sooner.
So if you have a list of 40 items, 20% would be around 8-10 that you consider would be the most beneficial to complete.
Now take those 8-10 items and go even smaller, what is the top 20% of the top 20%.
Keep taking the top 20% until you have whittled that list down to just one item. One thing that by doing it will bring you the most results and you should go ahead and do that.
In The One Thing, Gary suggests that you focus on your one thing for a minimum of 4 hours a day. Now that would be fabulous and I totally get why, but so far, I have only managed to get around 3 hours a day of uninterrupted time where I could get into it.
I started by using a timer and just going for 30 minutes. Do you know how hard it is to focus on just one thing for 30 minutes????
Each day, I extended that time more and now I’m up to around 3 hours. It doesn’t happen all at once unfortunately, I have had to block it around other stuff but the more I get into it the more I try and make it the first thing of the day for the largest amount of time (currently around 2 hours) and once the kids are up then the rest follows later in the day until I have either finished the task or hit my daily target.
Honestly, the difference it has made has been nothing short of a miracle. I’ve managed to get loads done on my blog, painting, sewing projects to sell in my friend’s shop and completely overhauled our budget and spending which is already having great effects.
During these periods of focussed time, I have found that thoughts will run through my brain. Other things that I need to do, books I want to put on my Amazon wish list, movies I want to watch and what date was the sports day at school that I said I would help out? For this, I keep a notepad with me and just write it down. Once it has left my brain, I can refocus quickly on the task at hand and know that I don’t need to try and remember it for later on.
Having managed to knock out quite a few tasks off my list over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that many of these have been things I have wanted to do for literally months if not years.
I can totally testify to the power of this method. I am way more mindful of distractions now and way more focussed as I work through any task at all.
Oh, and remember that first list with all the little things on it – so that is really just to clear your head. Once we get something down on paper we don’t need to hold space in our brains for it any longer.
When you have finished your ‘one thing’ for the day, you can whiz through all the little stuff crossing a bunch of items off as you go. I do find for this list, I can multi-task. It makes sense to have the washing on while you do the dishes or make lunches. I’m definitely not saying to only do one thing at a time when it comes to the smaller day to day stuff.
But for the bigger stuff that will bring you bigger rewards, as Gary says in his book “doing the most important thing is always the most important thing”.