February 22, 2011

Single-tasking

I was recently at a yoga class (yes, I do yoga " it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my chronically bad back and I highly recommend it) and the instructor told us to practice "single-tasking" to focus both mind and body on the one thing that we were doing at that moment. That really caught my attention as I’m a big multi-tasker (I check e-mail while watching the Packer game, I try to learn Spanish while driving, I listen to books on my iPod while walking the dog). In fact, I liked the concept of single-tasking so much, as it’s so different from how we live today, that I thought it could be an interesting blog topic.

I immediately began working this through in my mind (i.e., multi-tasking) in class, which I was not supposed to do. I realized I wasn’t staying focused and was defeating the purpose, and found it’s a good way to tip over in class!

Besides helping my back, this single-tasking concept is the reason I think yoga really benefits me. It’s one of the few times I am forced to slow down and calm my mind. This is obviously important in your personal life as you have to be able to slow down and enjoy the experiences you are having (as opposed to thinking of what’s happening later, what needs to get done, or what happened earlier in the day) or you miss what’s happening in front of you. You know, stop and smell the roses.

So how does that translate to the business world? The push is always for more productivity and efficiency, so isn’t multi-tasking always better? In my January 25 blog, I talked about taking time away from the distractions of the office to focus on strategic planning and the concept of working on important, not just urgent items, in order to make meaningful improvements. These are single-task type endeavors.

I’m sure you’ve noticed when you try to do everything, you don’t accomplish anything. Have you ever driven to work thinking, today I really need to finish that one important project that I’ve been putting off? You get to work, you have 30 e-mails to sift through, five voicemails to return, the mail comes, your cell phone rings, someone stops in with an emergency project, more e-mails pile up, and pretty soon the day has ended and you haven’t accomplished a thing. It’s amazing how quickly time gets away from you when you’re unfocused. To solve this problem, I find two key practices to be critical: goal-setting and discipline. You need to take time to set meaningful and realistic goals, and you have to be disciplined enough to stay focused on them. Oftentimes we make the mistake of setting too many goals. Fewer is probably better, as the odds of staying focused and reaching them will be greatly increased.

This was captured by author and educator Nido Qubein when he said, "Nothing can add more power to your life than concentrating all your energies on a limited set of targets." So as you hurdle through life at a breakneck pace, periodically slow down, focus, and stop your wheels from spinning. Take time to "single-task" to make sure you are focused on getting enjoyment out of the moments in your personal life and accomplishing the important things you set out to do in your professional world.


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