Like a dog with a bone, I keep coming back to the topic of our increasingly caffeinated, hyperlinked culture and what it is doing to our ability to be thoughtful, reflective humans. I’ve written previously about how this incessant connectivity can diffuse our focus in the nonprofit sector.
So, no surprise that my ears pricked up when someone forwarded me The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. Full disclosure (and irony alert): I read the first few paragraphs in my car, on my phone, waiting for a train to pass.
What else are you doing right now, while you read this blog post? Eating lunch? Listening in on a conference call? G-chatting with a friend?
As the saying goes, “multi-tasking is doing many things poorly all at once.” My point here is not to hit you over the head with multitasking research that strongly suggests we are less productive when we juggle many things at a time, however.
Rather, it is to ask whether or not how you feel about your job and life might be, in fact, connected to this inability to set clear boundaries and focus strategically on one thing at a time.
In the article, Tony Schwartz calls out the connection between our feelings of overwhelm and dissatisfaction at work and this seemingly unquenchable thirst for multitasking. Our inability to effectively use our time isn’t just hurting our work output, he argues, it is directly impacting how engaged and energized we feel in general.
If this sounds familiar, what could you do differently? Here are 3 simple steps you might take.
- Take real breaks. Do you take breaks during the day to refresh or rejuvenate yourself? At Greenlights, a team member kicked off the year by inviting us all to join her for a 30-minute lunchtime walk on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
It doesn’t always happen, but I can vouch for the fact that when I’ve made the time to get out of the office and take a brisk walk with my colleagues, I feel more connected to my teammates and have more energy to devote to my ever-increasing mound of tasks when I get back.
- Turn off distractions. No, seriously. At least set your email and instant message settings so you aren’t interrupted every time a new message comes in. Focus on the task or conversation at hand – the emails will be there for you when you turn to them again. Same thing with your voice mail(s). Just because someone calls does not mean it is a strategic use of your time to pick up the phone right then and talk! This may be time management 101, but it bears repeating in our culture of constant accessibility.
- Schedule strategic thinking time. That’s right. Actually block it off on your calendar, and don’t allow it to be “overtaken by events.” Peter Drucker famously distinguished between “doing the right things” and “doing things right.” If you aren’t carving out time to focus on whatever “the right things” are for your work today, this week, this quarter, you are missing out on a critical chance to reconnect to what gives you energy and drew you to your job in the first place (not to mention the opportunity to be effective).
And of course, such strategies also can help you with your nonprofit mission and impact. As Schwartz points out, “the best way for an organization to fuel higher productivity and more innovative thinking is to strongly encourage finite periods of absorbed focus, as well as shorter periods of real renewal.”
So how do you or your team combat overwhelm at work? What ways are you creating periods of “absorbed focus” or “real renewal” in 2012?