Episode 002: Single Tasking & Thought Purging For Better Productivity
I remember when I became a mom, I saw this graphic on Instagram that described my new normal perfectly. It was a cartoon female holding a phone in one hand, pushing a vacuum with another, with a baby on her hip, all in front of a table with an open laptop & coffee mug. Everything about this was me, and I was proud — I’m juggling all the things & it’s awesome!
I have quickly learned that being busy isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a badge of honor because I quickly went from juggling to burnt out & drowning.
The idea of multitasking became more like an addiction, and like most addictions, it wasn’t long before I saw how bad it really was for me — I wasn’t actually getting that much done & it was more detrimental than it was helpful.
So what do I instead? I have spent the past YEAR — yes, year! — training myself on how to “single-task” and more importantly, how to quiet anything that tries to pull my focus on the task at hand.
While I haven’t perfected this new lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination — hello, I’m still a mom! — I have picked up some pretty useful hacks & habits, and that’s what I want to dive into today. I want to share with you some of my single-tasking tricks & how they’ve helped me step up my productivity.
How many of you remember applying for jobs & either on the application, on your resume, or during the interview, made a point of noting your “ability to multitask” as a skill?
I know that I wasn’t the only one.
This was something that I remember being explicitly told was a good skill, and a sought after one, for most jobs all in the name of efficiency. If only I knew then what I know now. Because now there’s COUNTLESS research on how multi tasking is actually bad for you & rather than saving us time, we’re losing time jumping from task to task.
Thinking about it, I’ve come to imagine our brains like a car, and when we’re multi tasking we’re literally smashing the brakes to take a sharp left turn. I know my car doesn’t like when I do that once, so I can’t imagine doing it multiple times & not having to replace my brakes and/or tires very, very soon.
Same with our brains!
And while I don’t know what the metaphorical equivalent would be to brakes & tires, I imagine all my multi tasking over the years may have contributed to my chronic migraines — my brain hurts!
What science has come to realize is that switching back & forth between multiple things — checking email, answering texts, listening to music, folding laundry, drafting a floor plan, scrolling Instagram, planning dinner, etc. — actually prevents us from efficiently completing one thing. And in my life, I came to realize how true this is, because I was either not being able to fully commit my focus or I was forgetting bits of information as I shifted gears or I was getting plain ol’ mental fatigue.
As a mom, I don’t know that I am ever not doing at least two things at once, especially with a toddler, BUT for the past year, I made a point of minimizing how many things I was taking on at once and/or switching between without taking time to reset my focus.
I’ve attempted so many different ways to keep my focus in tact — a lot of the usual tips & tricks, like creating to do lists, putting my phone on do not disturb, creating a schedule around my daughter’s schedule, and everything you can think of in between.
Some have worked.
So I’ve decided to share with you new habits I’ve put into place that have proven the most effective for me.
I’ve learned that before I can really focus on anything, I need to just empty my head, or thoughts will just be swirling around, unresolved & distracting me.
There are two ways I do a brain dump that have really taken the pressure off for tackling every thought or idea that pops into my head:
on Trello, I’ve created a board that I use as an “idea bank” to write down any new idea I get for content, products, collaborations, social media, or any other area of my business
on my phone, I use the voice recorder to say the thought aloud & have it recorded so I can refer back to it later
Doing this allows me to get thoughts & ideas out of my head, to deal with at a later time, but it also helps eliminate the overwhelm that comes from constantly being “on” — it’s like closing all the tabs on your browser & restarting the computer.
If I don’t remember to go back to the card on my Trello or the voice note on my phone, then there’s a strong chance it wasn’t something I needed to give priority to; and to that end, when I do go through my idea bank & voice notes, seeing everything in front of me helps me prioritize with clarity & intention.
For you, purging your thoughts might look like journaling, jotting things down in a note book, writing a to do list, sending quick text messages to yourself, or posting sticky notes on your office wall…just to name a few ideas.
However you do these dumps, know that end goal is to literally empty your head.
Prioritizing & Planning
I used to be one of those people that thought everything needed to be tending to immediately, but really, if everything’s important than nothing’s important.
Purging my thoughts & doing regular brain dumps gave me the mental space to start prioritizing, and really discerning between what needs my immediate attention, what’ll eventually need my attention but can wait for now, what will get my attention when I have the time, and what I can really just take off my plate altogether.
I’ve been using Powersheets as my “planner” to really help me with this process. Unlike planners I’ve used in the past, Powersheets is less about having a place to catalog important dates, and more for intentional & thoughtful goal planning from month to month & week to week.
There’s even a place for monthly brain dumps!
For you, one place may be your planning hub or multiple places like me, depending on your process. This isn’t about having the “perfect” planning system, so much as it’s a way to organize & make sense of all the stuff that was in my head.
If I’ve decided that this week, I really need to focus on client work, then I will schedule my days & tasks accordingly; versus another week where content has to take a front seat.
Batching & Single Tasking
Now that I have the makings of a game plan, it’s time to put it in action!
From everything I’ve done up to this point, I know what’s really important & requiring my attention, and I’ve also prioritized everything.
Tackling them, is usually where, in the past, I would go all in doing two, three things at a time — working on a client mood board, while product sourcing in 8 different tabs, while jotting down a quick outline for a blog post… oh, that would make a great podcast episode too… and well you can see how things can quickly spiral from there!
So I started batching and focusing chunks of my time on a single task, versus chunks of tasks at a single time.
I decided to dedicate certain days/weeks to to certain tasks:
recording — be it for the podcast or my YouTube channel. I’ve even started batching IG stories, if it makes sense, now that you can upload multiple stories at one time
editing — blog posts, youtube videos, podcast audio…anything that required me “perfecting” and finalizing content
creating — from project renderings to social media graphics, setting aside a time to just be in those apps, making pretty things
writing — any and ALL the writing that would go into my days — emails, captions, blogs, outlines — which made me realize, I was repeating the same things more times than I even realized & so now I could really cut down on wasted time
Batching is going to look different for everyone — from having dedicated days & weeks for certain tasks to setting daily time blocks.
While time blocking never seemed to work for me, during days that I would have to change gears often with my daughter home, I started using the Pomodoro method so that even if I couldn’t take the whole day out to write, I could take 20 min chunks out to write.
The Pomodoro method, in short, in a time management technique where you work in intervals or 20 to 25 minutes, with short (usually 5 minute) breaks in between.
This means for 25 minutes straight, uninterrupted, I would knock out one task — finishing one outline, recoding one episode, drafting one floor plan, folding one load of laundry, whatever. This would be less about completing the task, and more about focusing on the task.
And the funniest part is that 9 times out of 10, I would finish!
What used to be a laborious 8 hour task was now getting knocked out in 50 minutes! All because I was focused!
On my Mac, I downloaded an app called Tomato One, which is a Pomodoro timer app, but this is something you can easily do with the timer on your phone or your kitchen timer. I would put my phone & computer on do not disturb, and get into the zone for the task at hand.
With the 5 minute break, I’ll drink water, stretch, use the bathroom, check my messages, and then once the 5 minutes is done, back to work.
I used to end my days with NO FREAKING CLUE where the day went, and while some days I still fall short, this started to help me a lot because my competitive nature wouldn’t let me deviate from the clock!
While my productivity routine is still a work in progress, implementing these new changes has not only helped with my productivity but also with the overwhelm of the juggle.
Eliminating multi tasking from my day to day, and from my vocabulary has been a game changer.
Things are getting done quicker & more efficiently & with less pressure!
Your routine is certainly going to look differently from mine, but if you’re a “master multi talker” I challenge you to take a hard look on what you’re doing now and be honest about if you’re truly making the best use of your time.
Jogging while listening to this podcast — great multi tasking.
Add checking your email to that list, and one of those three things is certainly going to suffer, if not all three.
And that is the message here — evaluate how effective your current tasking techniques are & if you decide to start doing brain dumps, batching, or any of the other things I’ve mentioned, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you have another habit or hack that’s worked for you, I’d love to hear about it too!
Head over to The Design Influence on either Instagram or Facebook to keep the conversation going, and maybe help out a fellow designpreneur whose productivity routine, or lack thereof, isn’t doing them any favors.
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Talk to you soon!