Doing one thing at a time seems to yield better results for me, so far

by oneafrikan on April 15, 2008

This is a post inspired by a conversation with Demian today ;-)

OK, so I’m the first to admit that multi-tasking is something that I do all the time. You know the deal – you have about 20 windows open, 6 emails in progress, 12 unread emails, a long list of things you want to accomplish, music in the headphones, tv in the background, at least one other person in the room or office, and sometimes the odd sandwich, pizza or drink handy (although I’m happy to say my pizza consumption is much less than it used to be!).

Added to that your juggling about 6 gazillion things you want to do in your mental RAM (go read Getting Things Done by David Allen – he talks about mental RAM in more detail. For Mom, RAM is what the computer uses to store short term stuff for programs so they’re faster) as well as the stuff other people want you to do.

So, my revelation came earlier this year when I found that due to the number of things on my plate, I was making little bits of progress, but not massive leaps. I was happy with where I was generally, but I felt that being really focussed on the important 20% at that time would be best. So I decided that if there was a productivity benefit to doing one thing at a time only (no, really – we’re not production line workers here) it was worth trying.

So, the first thing that was super hard was to get to grips with the idea that I had to actively NOT do what I normally did – kinda like untraining myself. This also meant not dealing with or answering emails unless they were in the “important and urgent” category (so my Inbox swelled up) – where I usually aimed to respond to something asap regardless – which bugged me since there are many emails I WANT to reply to, but not that many I HAVE to reply to.

The second thing was to consciously NOT do more than one thing at a time. So no more 21 tabs in Firefox, no more multiple emails open, no more writing multiple emails at the same time, no more starting 6 things at once, no more checking this and that, no more following rabbit holes.

The third thing that has been absolutely crucial for me, is to agree a priority order with myself, and to also agree with myself that if I’m not in the mood, my energy level is too low, or I’m simply not going to have enough time to complete, the priority order can change within reason.
I do the “global priority order” generally during a weekly review I try do every Sunday, which gets updated based on inputs, and this priority order reflects the importance I attach to things I want to accomplish. So for example, doing the SxSW panel content is more of a priority for me than organising my music collection.

I’m gonna go into this in more detail soon since I’ve already way past my bedtime, but the point that I want to make is that since I have my systems in place to handle my mental RAM, all I really HAVE to do is one thing at a time to completion.

And since I’ve done this, I’ve started ticking things off my lists more and more, and I’m feeling happier and more productive. I’m also finding that my life goals are on track because my priority order reflects the objectives I’ve set for myself. Result!

So I’m no Benjamin Franklin, but it’s been a real revelation to me how doing one thing at a time seems to yield better results, for me at least. I’m going to take this further and see where it leads.

You know what the funny thing is? My Dad has been telling me to do this for 25 years…. bless him! ;-)

Any thoughts from you?


Did I tell you that?, don’t remember, might have been a tip from your Granpa, he always had too many things to do at once. When you have plenty on your plate don’t complain, try to delegate to those who don’t look so busy.! There’s nothing worse than not having something to do..

by Clive Knight on April 16, 2008 at 6:25 am. Reply #

Thanks for taking the time to sum this up. I heard about Allen on the radio I think and jotted it on a Post It somewhere and then lost it.
I’m quitting my job this year and making big changes and this will be one.
The weekly review part sounds simple but crucial! Again, thanks.

Evan in Brooklyn

by Evan on April 16, 2008 at 10:40 am. Reply #

@Dad: Yes, you did, many times! ;-) Maybe it was Granpa talking to you, and then you talking to me!? Don’t worry Dad, I’ve got plenty to do! ;-)

@Evan: no problem, I’m going to try do this kinda post more and more – seems I have some stuff that needs to get out. The weekly review is in my opinion the Achilles heel of the whole system. If you get it right you’re smokin’, but if you get it wrong, you’re nowhere. The more I do it, then more I like doing it…

Hope all goes well!

by Gareth Knight on April 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm. Reply #

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