Unitasking. No, I am not sure it is a real word. Yes, I am writing a blog all about it anyways.
For some reason, society has decided that multitasking is a skill we should all strive to master our time management. It is often listed as a requirement on job postings. Professionals often brag about how many things they accomplished at the same time. On the flip side, It is frequently the justification for making simple mistakes, and is the reason so many auto accidents happen due to distracted driving.
I’d like to propose that we shift the focus, and begin showing some love for the idea of Unitasking. It really is the better of the two choices. Here is why I strive each day to be a terrible multi-tasker and a terrific unitasker.
- Research. Who are we to argue with the scientists? Research has overwhelmingly proven that multitasking really is a myth. As in, not possible. What we are doing is task shifting; start.stop.start.stop. This is not a good strategy when driving, or exercising. Why would it be a good idea with task management?
- Time. Here is the irony. People multitask because they are trying to save time. In reality, when we multitask we end up spending more time overall than if we completed each task one by one. And I an certain we can all agree we need more time, not less of it.
- Energy. The start/stop/start process is not efficient, and actually can be physically and mentally exhausting. Save that energy for your creative, deep work. Energy is a limited resource, just like time.
- Accuracy. There is nothing I dislike more than making mistakes; Well, maybe being late, but regardless. The more we multitask, the more we are at risk of making mistakes…stupid mistakes that do not leave a good impression upon others.
- Relationships. I have two little boys, and they are very aware when I am not fully focused on them and our “let’s pretend” game of Star Wars. A Storm Trooper should not be sending a text or checking email while fighting the light side. When we pay partial attention to those we are engaged with, we are sending a message they are not important to us. Enough said.
When do you tend to fall into the trap of multitasking? How can you begin to change that habit and maximize your time, energy, and relationships? I’ll be the first to admit it is not easy, but I promise you the return on investment is high. Fulfilling my role as a Storm Trooper is truly one of the most important tasks I have these days, and I have only a limited amount of time to do that right. Those emails and text messages can wait.
To Your Productivity-
When was the last time you looked at the top of your desk? I mean really LOOKED at it, surveyed the landscape, noticed each and every item taking up space. If I blindfolded you and asked you to name all of the items, would you pass the test?
When I ask my clients to clear off their desk, the first pass typically involves removing piles of paper and loose sticky notes, and leaving everything else as-is. When I begin to ask about the items left behind (picture frames, paper weights, knick-knacks) they quickly realize how “immune” they have become to the clutter. With a slight shift in perspective (lesson #1 is that this area is their Prime Real Estate) they quickly discover the truth behind the idea that a clear space leads to a clear mind, which in turn leads to increased focus and productivity.
Do me a favor. Take a good look at your desk and if you see any of the following, let’s make a plan to take some action. Your productivity and success are likely on the line.
1.The In/Out tray cannot be seen under its paper tower. I do endorse having a tray for incoming, not-yet-processed paperwork and mail. I also enforce the 24 hour rule, which means the items in the tray need to find a more appropriate home within the day. You don’t leave your mail in the mailbox for days on end (do you?), so you also should not let unprocessed papers collect dust in the Inbox. Keep it moving!
2. Multiple “traditional” desk accessories are amongst the mix, many with a layer of dust. Do you still have the matching pen stand, business card holder, desk pad. etc. consuming your prime real estate? When was the last time you actually used tape from the clunky dispenser? Chances are, you do not really need or use all of these items. Here is what you want to ask yourself about each and every item on your desk):
- Is this item functional on a daily basis?
- Did I place this item here intentionally?
- Do I need this to be within arm’s reach?
If the answer to these questions is not a resounding YES, it is time to relocate the item(s).
3.There is one stack (or more) of business cards piling up. Be honest, are you looking up right now and glancing at your pile? You know the drill: you attend a networking event, come back to the office, empty your pockets, and stack the newest cards on top with the intention to call a few of those folks you met when time allows. Guess what? Time will not “allow” unless you schedule the task, and the top of your desk is not where any of those contacts’ cards should be living. If you have not yet defined your system for managing business cards & contacts, put that at the top of your priority list. Why? Because some of these business cards represent money to be made and opportunities to be pursued.
4.You have more than one pile of papers you classify as Urgent/Important. I firmly believe we need to File not Pile. Piles of paper quickly become a mix of high, medium, and low priority tasks, some with hard deadlines and others without. Eighty percent of my clients have success with a Tickler File system to prioritize tasks and assign specific days and times to get the tasks done. Check out The Swiftfile™ which is my must-have tool for any/all professionals. The pile alone is not going to spur you into action; those documents and the tasks they represent must become scheduled appointments with yourself (or your team) for execution/completion.
5. You have to “tidy up” your desk every time you are expecting a visitor to your office. When you stop what you are doing to straighten up, you are diverting focus and mental energy to a non-essential task. Current research says it will take most people up to 20 minutes to fully re-engage and refocus following a distraction. You are one of your most valuable clients, so it behooves you to keep your desk as clear for yourself as you would for your VIP clients.
Creating better organization and improving your systems will take commitment, discipline, a plan, and time. The investment, however, just may be one of the best you’ve ever made.
To Your Productivity-
Call it flow, or being in the zone; Whatever your preferred name, you know its power, right? I didn’t fully understand this concept until I became a runner and began training for half-marathons. It took a lot of practice and patience to achieve that mental state; not having to think about my stride or my pace. My body “worked” seamlessly, just as I needed and wanted it to. The reward? Feeling invincible, unstoppable, successful. The hard work, blood, sweat and tears finally feeling worthwhile. That has been my experience with getting into the zone, as an athlete.
So what does that have to do with your professional life and productivity? A lot, actually. It can be argued that the state of flow is the most perfect state from which to work. And if we expand the definition of “work” to include making sales and delivering quality products/services for our customers, in addition to running that PR marathon or catching that perfect wave, the correlation is easily made. As productivity pro Laura Stack says, “When you achieve a state of flow, skill merges with practice and preparation in an almost magical way.”
How do you achieve flow and get into the zone when you are at your desk, in your office, and you don’t have adrenaline, beautiful scenery ,or fresh air to inspire you? It is a different kind of flow, I would agree, but the outcome can be just as powerful and meaningful. Writing a wonderfully-crafted proposal, providing a well-received presentation, knocking it out of the park on a client project; these can also be the result of flow and can lead to success and feeling unstoppable.
Here are a few strategies to help you find your flow and make the magic happen:
- Delete the Distractions– You know this, but do you actually do it? Turn the phone off (yes, off, not just on vibrate) or at least move it into another room, out of sight and (hopefully) out of mind. If someone really needs you, they will find a way to get a hold of you. Lock yourself out from tempting websites (check out the Chrome extension StayFocused). Tell those individuals who tend to interrupt you that you are not available for the next few hours. Be proactive and take control of your time and your focus.
- Set the Clock- Need to submit that proposal by 3:00 PM? Set the timer and race the clock to get it done by 2:00 PM. Don’t have an external deadline? Still set the timer and get the project done by 2:00 PM. Regardless of whether clients or co-workers are directly involved in a project’s timeline, create your own deadline, and then challenge yourself to get it done by a certain day and time. With a specific start and stop time in place, dig in and get to work! Single task and make that the ONLY task you devote mental energy to, while the clock or timer is ticking. Give yourself a limit on the time you spend on each task, consistent with its level of importance. Done is better than perfect, right? Which leads me to the next tip…
- Aim for 80%- I read a wonderful mini-book a few years ago called The 80% Approach by Dan Sullivan. It literally changed my work life. It teaches you how to eliminate perfectionism and procrastination, to get work done more quickly, and to redefine what “finished” really means. There is no such thing as perfect, and by recognizing that your 80% will likely be seen as 100% by others, you can focus on getting the work done and not unrealistically seeking perfection. Flow is not about doing it perfectly, it’s about doing it skillfully and effectively. [Get a free downloadable copy of the book here.]
- Fuel to Focus- Are your body and brain fueled up? Just as you will tank in the final miles if you haven’t properly eaten before a race, you will not find your flow if you are not providing fuel, aka healthy food, to your brain. Food has a direct impact on focus, memory, and attention span. Be sure you are well fed and feeling energized prior to rolling up your sleeves and tackling that project.
What has your best experience been, finding flow and getting into the zone? Let us know what works best for you, and try a few of these techniques the next time you need to focus and create some magic. All in a day’s work, right?
To Your Productivity-
I love to plan. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise anyone. Along with that comes my strong dislike of having to change plans. Flexible is definitely not my middle name. Being a business owner and mother, however, has forced me to become a bit more comfortable with the idea of having a Plan B…at all times. I was reminded of the importance of this “skill” last week, when my son had both a snow day and a sick day in the same week. That, my friends, does not typically make for a highly productive work week by my standards. I’m happy to report, however, that I was able to make the most of the unplanned time at home, and still stay relatively on-track with my overall goals for the week. Here’s my take on the habits and tools that helped me stay on track:
1. Task Management Tool: I am pretty consistent about dumping out all of the to-do’s running through my mind into my task management tool, which is currently a low-tech paper-based tool called Planner Pad™. So regardless of where I am, how much time I have, and what resources are/not available to me, I can look at my project & task lists and identify something that I can conquer and cross-off. Since my office is at home, I caught up on paper filing, cleaned up my digital files, and worked ahead on some social media content while my little man was sleeping and watching shows.
2. Urgent versus Important: Another habit I’ve developed is confidently deciding what is urgent, what is important, and accepting that some things just need to wait…and that is OK. It has taken me a long time to get here though!
3. Work-Life Integration: We live in a world of constant accessibility. Work is accessible to us 24/7, thanks to email and the cloud. We are accessible 24/7 to everyone (family, friends, co-workers, clients) thanks to Facebook, texting, video chat, etc. There is no longer a clear line between when we are working and when we are doing LIFE. There are a lot of negatives to this fact, but one of the positives is that work can be done during off-hours, and taking care of our family can happen between 9-5. So I gave myself permission to play some board games, postponed writing this blog, and enjoyed some “Mom and Eli” time.
When I started my business 11 years ago, I had a really hard time giving myself permission to integrate the personal and professional parts of my life without feeling guilty about it. Most of us come from an experience where “the boss” didn’t want us making personal calls and running personal errands during our time on-the-clock, right? But being my own boss means I have the luxury to do just that, and with the self-discipline I have developed, I trust that I will get the work done even if it is late at night or on the weekend. Plan B turned out to be just as good as Plan A; in fact, it was even better. My “Champy” will be grown up before I know it, and I’ll be wishing I’d had more “Plan B” days doing LIFE with my son. Work will always be there to pick back up the next day.
To Your Productivity-
This fall, I participated in an amazing branding course led by a fellow entrepreneur, Patrick McGilvray. Patrick is the Founder of Focus Five Design. His course challenged me (in a very good way) and exposed me to new activities & exercises that were beneficial beyond measure. There was one activity that I enjoyed the most; writing a Manifesto. Prior to this course, I would not have been able to even define a manifesto as related to a small business such as mine. My initial thoughts were…Why did Turn Leaf need one? Would I even use it after this class?
Of course I engaged in the process, because I am a rule-follower (I am sure that shocks NONE of you) and I trust Patrick 100%. I had struggled earlier in the year redefining my Mission, Vision, and Values statements, so I assumed a positive attitude and hoped this exercise would be more enjoyable and fruitful.
As it turns out, this was exactly what I needed…and I couldn’t stop adding to it! That too, will likely not surprise those of you who know how wordy I can be when I write. But that is the beauty of a Manifesto; there really are no rules, no limitations, no must-do’s. More than just a list of beliefs, it is a declaration of my principles and those values for which I want my company to stand. As Patrick explained, it should be my North Star as I build this business that I love, and move toward my goals and vision.
So here it is, folks! Turn Leaf’s very own manifesto.
TURN LEAF MANIFESTO
We believe in positivity…and productivity. We believe change is good. We believe in Karma; give and one day you will receive. We believe getting organized is freeing…and fun! That there is always a solution.
We believe you CAN afford to make yourself great.
We stand for purpose & integrity; for quality & respect; for intentionality. We stand for working hard, and playing hard.
We will no longer stand for “we have always done it that way.”
We have the right to make our own decisions, to be IN CONTROL of our life, our environment, our time.
We have the right to be unique; to reach our potential.
We have the right to make our passion our profession.
We have the power to change and shape our future.
We have the power & responsibility to protect the earth; to treat all others with kindness and respect.
We help you gain control. We help you to say YES and to say NO. We help you to BE your best and to WORK your best.
We help you define & create success.
We love results and return on investment. We love purpose and vision. We love making goals and following plans to achieve them.
We strive for excellence in all that we do…to give more than we take…to lead…to create greater peace within.
We are entrepreneurs, mothers, sisters, friends, teammates.
We are game-changers… life-changers…problem solvers.
We are TURNING over new LEAVES.
TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF
According to Webster (actually, dictionary.com; sorry Mr. Webster, your pages are getting dusty on my shelf), this “phrase of turn” means start to act or behave in a better or more responsible way. Its synonyms include
improve, make a fresh start, and change for the better.
I could not have chosen a better name for my business ten years ago when I was getting started. I was personally making a fresh start as an entrepreneur and Professional Organizer, and my overarching goal was- and still is- to help others make changes for the better, and to help my clients improve their personal and business processes & systems.
From time to time, people will ask if I know about Turning Leaf Winery in California, and comment about the similarity of our names. I certainly did my research and ensured my business name was not already taken, and I had no concerns about prospective clients getting confused between our businesses or mistaking one for the other! When recently skimming their website, I found it interesting, however, that there were some similarities in the language we both use, despite our two very distinct companies and industries. Their Brand Story includes the words hands-on approach, top quality, and guidance. These are certainly words that describe my values and my services.
I still recall how I struggled with making the decision on a business name. I can now say it was worth the time, effort, and energy I expended to identify the “perfect” name. After all these years, Turn Leaf still resonates for me, and the meaning behind the name could not be more accurate.