Fulfillment = slow down to speed up
I used to claim my ability to multi-task as a superpower. In reality, this method of working drained me, left me feeling unfulfilled and a bit disconnected. I would rush through tasks and projects in the same way instead of really putting a lot of thought and attention to what mattered most. I would leave work with open items that didn’t get closed out which made me feel unfulfilled.
What I didn’t realize for a long time is this approach is draining and impacts not being able to fully engage all of my gifts. When I would take the time to fully immerse in a new idea, strategy, or solution to a problem, I was able to utilize the gifts that would bring those to reality. This is because several studies have shown that high multitaskers experience greater problems focusing on important and complicated tasks, memory impairment of new subject matter, difficulty learning new material, and increased stress levels.
The real superpower was capacity which is very different then being able to switch gears left and right across multiple things at the same time. Mental, emotional and creative capacity plus a the best class I ever took (typing in high school) offered much more of a superpower. But how to use this fully vs. just multi-tasking chaos.
I did formulate over the years a great skill around prioritization which relieved some of the pressure of getting everything done right away. I started asking for and giving clarity on what was actually urgent vs. not, and when something needed to be done in reality.
In our world of feeling the pressure to respond right away, complete everything on our plate by end of day and depending on others to get anything done (meaning we are not in full control) it can be overwhelming, chaotic and unnecessary.
A few years ago I started to time block on my calendar during my most creative and productive times in the day. That was my sacred space and I started to put more focus and creativity in things I was navigating or projects I was bringing to life.
I also found that context shifting was killing me mentally. I had a variety of areas of responsibility, teams, skills and outputs that had me shifting all day long from meeting to meeting and email to email. Short conversations, shorter email responses and pushing myself to meet deadlines regardless of how many hours I worked was absolutely not fulfilling.
I started grouping things together based on area in both my calendar/meetings and topics to focus on. This kept me in that mental focus for more than just an hour at a time. I tried to schedule 1:1’s with my team in chunks so I could be in listening mode more effectively. There were many adjustments that definitely helped! However, I didn’t realize how much more productive and effective I could be if I had discipline around focus, intention and attention.
I slowed down, got rid of the everything is urgent mentality, clarified expectations (an gave myself a break) and set boundaries to provide space to actually be more productive.
This also allowed me to strengthen my other gifts like bringing in new ideas, planning more holistically into the future, and more strategically outline effective plans.
Back to multi-tasking chaos. Shifting the mind all day long from one task to the next actually goes against its natural desire to keep things simple and preserve the body. And studies show that switching from one task to the next takes a serious toll on productivity by as much as 40 percent. Multitaskers have more trouble tuning out distractions than people who focus on one task at a time. Doing so many things at once can actually impair cognitive ability. While our subconscious mind is processing at least 134 bits per second of information, our conscious mind can only take in about 7 +/- 2 pieces of information. The brain is not meant to multitask.
Switching from one task to another makes it difficult to tune out distractions and can cause mental blocks that can slow you down. I found this was even more so when my responsibilities spread across many different parts of the business. Switching context all day, whether it was calls, meetings, creating, or conversations with team members for each of those areas was exhausting. There are some tasks that we are robotic about and can do with our eyes closed and without thought, but with so much information coming in visually and audibly, it can be overwhelming.
This is because in the brain, multitasking is managed by executive functions. These control and manage cognitive processes and determine how, when, and in what order certain tasks are performed. According to Meyer, Evans, and Rubinstein,
there are two stages to the executive control process, (1) goal shifting: deciding to do one thing instead of another, and (2) role activation: changing from the rules for the previous task to rules for the new task.
Part of the issue of multitasking is the start of the day when we pick up our phones after opening our eyes for the first time. Our minds start going and we start feeling the pressure to get everything done that we need to do. New to-dos start overriding the plan we created the night before, and we lose control before the day even starts. Another area is meetings or video calls. This is not a new issue due to remote working, but it already existed in physical group meetings too. Laptop open, email open, and guess what’s going on? Half-listening while looking at email, creating documents, booking travel, or other tasks needing the brain. After leaving a meeting where critical information was shared, I’ve repeatedly seen someone start asking, “So what’s going on with this program (or issue)?” If they would have just listened in the meeting and avoided the other distractions, they would be fully informed. Instead, it was obvious they were not listening. This can create major disconnects, especially in a very fast-paced environment.
When we look at the impact multitasking has on decisions, it’s also clear that the brain gets fatigued and it becomes challenging to make the best decisions. If we are distracted, we take in half of the information. If we are tired, we can’t process it well. If we are overwhelmed, we shortchange the potential impact of our abilities and our gifts.
When I started writing my book I set myself a goal of writing 2k words a day, 4 days a week. When I started writing I put my phone in a different place, did not have email open and had only my writing in front of me. I realize now that the exercise of being committed and dedicating 100% focus and attention on writing created discipline in me. This was a huge aha moment. I started my book May 6, 2021 and finished July 26, 2021 (76K words, 35 chapters) minus a couple of weeks I did not write. Being able to fully immerse ourselves into a project, creation, solution, problem we are solving, etc. allows us to deliver something more effective, in a more timely manner AND best of all, we feel fulfillment at the end of the day.
I’ve adapted this practice in my business by grouping things together that take a skill or thought process to complete, prioritize over and over to ensure I’m working on THE most important items and give myself permission to put things aside that are not necessary so I can give my full attention to the things that are relevant.
Slowing down to speed up is a skill, discipline and benefit! Take a look at your day, personal processes, have a conversation with your boss on ‘what is necessary’, set boundaries around your response time, time block your best creative and productive times of day and allow yourself to get focused (giving full attention) to the big things.
Here are a few tips from my book on this topic in the Multi-tasking Insanity section Make the Shift.
To become more productive through less multitasking insanity:
· Use the “twenty-minute rule” and stick to each task for at least twenty minutes before shifting.
· Limit the number of things you juggle at any given time to two.
· Invest time into prioritizing and re-prioritizing so you don’t feel the pressure to do it all at once.
· Take a quick assessment of the various things you are trying to accomplish if you catch yourself multitasking and need to be productive.
· Eliminate distractions and try to focus on one task at a time. This includes allocating time slots in the day for email review rather than constantly looking at it. Turn off your notifications.
· Create more structure in your work by performing highly creative tasks in the morning, and then take a short break before moving on to each different task.