How NOT to Multitask – Work Simpler and Saner

MultitaskGuest post by Leo Babauta

You’re working on two projects at once, while your boss has placed two new demands on your desk. You’re on the phone while three new emails come in. You are trying to get out the door on time so you can pick up a few groceries on the way home for dinner. Your Blackberry is going off and so is your cell phone. Your co-worker stops by with a request for info and your Google Reader is filled with 100+ messages to read.

You are juggling tasks with a speed worthy of Ringling Bros. Congratulations, multitasker.

In this age of instant technology, we are bombarded with an overload of information and demands of our time. This is part of the reason GTD is so popular in the information world — it’s a system designed for quick decisions and for keeping all the demands of your life in order. But even if we are using GTD, sometimes we are so overwhelmed with things to do that our system begins to fall apart.

Life Hack recently posted How to Multi-task, and it’s a good article on the nature of multi-tasking and how to do it while still focusing on one task at a time.

This post is How NOT to Multi-task — a guide to working as simply as possible for your mental health.

First, a few quick reasons not to multi-task:

  1. Multi-tasking is less efficient, due to the need to switch gears for each new task, and the switch back again.
  2. Multi-tasking is more complicated, and thus more prone to stress and errors.
  3. Multi-tasking can be crazy, and in this already chaotic world, we need to reign in the terror and find a little oasis of sanity and calm.

Here are some tips on how NOT to multi-task:

  1. First set up to-do lists for different contexts (i.e. calls, computer, errands, home, waiting-for, etc.) depending on your situation.
  2. Have a capture tool (such as a notebook) for instant notes on what needs to be done.
  3. Have a physical and email inbox (as few inboxes as possible) so that all incoming stuff is gathered together in one place (one for paper stuff, one for digital).
  4. Plan your day in blocks, with open blocks in between for urgent stuff that comes up. You might try one-hour blocks, or half-hour blocks, depending on what works for you. Or try this: 40 minute blocks, with 20 minutes in between them for miscellaneous tasks.
  5. First thing in the morning, work on your Most Important Task. Don’t do anything else until this is done. Give yourself a short break, and then start on your next Most Important Task. If you can get 2-3 of these done in the morning, the rest of the day is gravy.
  6. When you are working on a task in a time block, turn off all other distractions. Shut off email, and the Internet if possible. Shut off your cell phone. Try not to answer your phone if possible. Focus on that one task, and try to get it done without worrying about other stuff.
  7. If you feel the urge to check your email or switch to another task, stop yourself. Breathe deeply. Re-focus yourself. Get back to the task at hand.
  8. If other things come in while you’re working, put them in the inbox, or take a note of them in your capture system. Get back to the task at hand.
  9. Every now and then, when you’ve completed the task at hand, process your notes and inbox, adding the tasks to your to-do lists and re-figuring your schedule if necessary. Process your email and other inboxes at regular and pre-determined intervals.
  10. There are times when an interruption is so urgent that you cannot put it off until you’re done with the task at hand. In that case, try to make a note of where you are (writing down notes if you have time) with the task at hand, and put all the documents or notes for that task together and aside (perhaps in an “action” folder or project folder). Then, when you come back to that task, you can pull out your folder and look at your notes to see where you left off.
  11. Take deep breaths, stretch, and take breaks now and then. Enjoy life. Go outside, and appreciate nature. Keep yourself sane.
 

The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home

A guest post by Leo Babauta

One of my favorite habits that I’ve created since I changed my life 9 years ago is having a decluttered home.

I now realize that I always disliked the clutter, but I put off thinking about it because it was unpleasant.

The thought of having to deal with all that clutter was overwhelming, and I had too much to do, or I was too tired, so I procrastinated.

Clutter, it turns out, is procrastination.

But I learned to deal with that procrastination one small chunk at a time, and I cleared it out. That was truly amazing.

Amazing because I didn’t really believe I could do it until I did it. I didn’t believe in myself. And amazing because when it was done, there was a background noise that was removed from my life, a distraction, an irritation.

Decluttering my home has meant a more peaceful, minimal life. It’s meant I spend less time cleaning, maintaining my stuff, looking for things. Less money buying things, storing things. Less emotional attachment to things.

For anyone looking to begin decluttering, I’d like to offer a short guide on getting started. Know that this guide isn’t comprehensive, and it can take months to really get down to a decluttered home … but if you do it right, the process is fun and liberating and empowering, each step of the way.

  1. Start small. Clutter can be overwhelming, and so we put it off. The best thing I did was to just focus on one small space to start with. A kitchen counter (just part of it) is a good example. Or a dining table, or a shelf. Clear everything off that space, and only put back what you really need. Put it back neatly. Get rid of the rest — give it away, sell it on Craigslist, donate it, recycle it. The clearing and sorting will take 10 minutes, while you can give stuff away later when you have the time.
  2. Work in chunks. If you start small, you’ll feel good about it, but there’s still a whole home full of stuff to deal with. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (Not literally — I’m vegan.) So just like you did one small area to start with, keep doing that, just 10 minutes a day, maybe more if you feel really enthusiastic. If you have a free day on the weekend, spend an afternoon doing a huge chunk. Spend the whole weekend if you feel like it. Or just do one small piece at a time — there’s no need to rush, but keep the progress going.
  3. Follow a simple method. For each small chunk you do, clear out the area in question and put everything in one pile. Pick up the first thing off the pile (no putting it aside to decide later) and force yourself to make a decision. Ask yourself: do I love and use this? If not, get rid of it. If the answer is yes, find a place for it — I call it a “home”. If you really love and use something, it deserves a home that you designate and where you put it back each time you’re done with it. Then go to the next thing and make the same decision. Working quickly and making quick decisions, you can sort through a pile in about 10 minutes (depending on the size of the pile).
  4. Put stuff in your trunk. Once you’ve collected stuff to donate or give away, put them in boxes or grocery bags and put them in the trunk of your car (if you don’t have a car, somewhere near the door). Choose a time to deliver them. Enjoy getting them out of your life.
  5. Talk to anyone involved. If you have a significant other, kids, or other people living with you, they’ll be affected if you start decluttering the home. You should talk to them now, before you get started, so they’ll understand why you want to do this, and get them involved in the decision-making process. Ask them what they think of this. Send them this article to consider. Ask if they can support you wanting to declutter, at least your own stuff or some of the kitchen or living room, to see what it’s like. Don’t be pushy, don’t try to force, but have the conversation. Be OK if they resist. Try to change the things that you can control (your personal possessions, for example) and see if that example doesn’t inspire them to consider further change.
  6. Notice your resistance. There will be a lot of items that you either don’t want to get rid of (even if you don’t really use them), or you don’t feel like tackling. This resistance is important to watch — it’s your mind wanting to run from discomfort or rationalize things. You can give in to the resistance, but at least pay attention to it. See it happening. The truth is, we put a lot of emotional attachment into objects. A photo of a loved one, a gift from a family member, a memento from a wedding or travel, a treasured item from a dead grandfather. These items don’t actually contain the memories or love that we think are in them, and practicing letting go of the items while holding onto the love is a good practice. And practicing tackling clutter that you dread tackling is also an amazing practice.
  7. Enjoy the process. The danger is to start seeing decluttering as yet another chore on your to-do list. Once you start doing that, it becomes something you’ll put off. Instead, reframe it to a liberating practice of mindfulness. Smile as you do it. Focus on your breathe, on your body, on the motions of moving items around, on your feelings about the objects. This is a beautiful practice, and I recommend it.

These steps won’t get your home decluttered in a weekend. But you can enjoy the first step, and then the second, and before you know it you’ve taken 30 steps and your home is transformed. You’ll love this change as much as I have.

5 ways to find your zen.

Zen habits

There are times in your life when you need to just breathe…or scream.  Screaming is not appropriate at work though, so we need to find other ways to manage our stress.  This is always easier said than done.  We worry, fret, and work ourselves into a tizzy over something that might happen.  We ponder, speculate, and look for hidden meanings in the words of everyone around us.  Life would be much easier if people just said what they meant…well, maybe.  I know I work better that way, but perhaps not everyone does.  In the meantime, we need to work with what we are given.  This applies to all aspects of life, not just work.

5 ways to find your zen:

  1. Focus on the task at hand.  I realize this is easier said than done, but if you really work to train your mind on the task at hand, we can get into our flow.  We actually can shift the way we think and remove the obstacles we place in our minds.  We are moving away from distractions and really focusing on what’s in front of us.
  2. All in.  Are you all in or only sort of here?  Be present.  In order to be in the present moment, you have to really pull your thoughts back.  Think of your thoughts moving continuously like a river.  That is the basis of flow.  The ego falls away and you are in the moment.  It is almost like timelessness.  The end of the day comes and you got so much done that you didn’t even realize you were in flow.  That’s how I feel in yoga.  I am in my flow.  Flow experiences can occur in different way for different people, but we have strong concentration during the task.
  3.   Rest.  Sometimes, you need a break after a long stretch of working on things.  This is something I have a problem with and I am learning to let go.  After being in my flow, I know that if I stop, it takes me longer to recover than most people.  I learned I need to set a timer since I work from home.  In an office setting, you can get up and stretch your legs.  Get a coffee.  At home, I tend to just get back to work.  It’s very important to remember everyone needs a break too…even if you are the boss.
  4. Simplify your workspace.  Do you every find yourself looking for things and they were under piles of paper?  Do you not know important dates because you have a calendar system that’s messy and difficult?  Work to simplify things.  Don’t over book yourself.  Keep meetings to the point.  Keep your desk neat and tidy.  Work on diving up your task into smaller, easier to handle chunks.  If you work from home, do the same thing.  Keep an orderly space.  It helps clear the mind.
  5. Let go of that which does not serve you.  This is my favorite one.  Gossip?  Does not serve you in any way shape or form.  Let it go.  Truthfulness?  Yes.  It serves to make your life easier.  Weigh your responses before answering.  Jealousy over what others have?  Does not serve you again.  Gratitude for what you have serves you much better and brings about more happiness.  Too many possessions?  Clutter?  Thank the items and give them to someone who needs them.  This is way we create space for things we need to come into our lives.  Remember, if it doesn’t do you any good, you don’t need to focus on it in your life.  Period.

My good friend said to me “What other people think of me is none of my business.”  I loved that line and made her repeat it.  I instantly thought of ways to apply that to my life.  The next time someone says something snippy to me, I will breathe in and out and maybe even make the “ohmmm” sound in my mind as they are speaking.  Knowing me, I might even say it out loud until it annoys them.  Zen is the practice of “not doing”.  You are not reacting to things around you when the world might be in chaos.  You need to still the thoughts that are going on in your head and think about the bigger picture.

 “Life is short.  Time is fleeting.  Realize the self.  Purity of heart is the gateway to God.  Aspire.  Renounce.  Meditate.  Be good; do good.  Be kind; be compassionate.  Inquire, know Thyself.”

~Swami Sivananda