The Best Laid Plans of Multi-Tasking

I get really cranky when my schedule gets thrown off. A disciple of the “block yo calendar” ninja method, it used to be easy enough to compartmentalize my time but lately I feel my black belt status might be slipping away from me.

img via watchcartoononline.com

img via watchcartoononline.com

I’m accountable for lots of stuff, much of which, since I’m still in the middle of a re-organization of my department is still in reactive rather than proactive mode. That’s really no excuse for what feels like a mismanaged calendar, but it’s what’s saving my sanity as I try to rationalize my total done for the day tally. My multi-tasking is beginning to get the better of me, though.

I know I’m not the only one out there like this. Every day I get emails from my feeds that indicate most of us are struggling with some kind of calendar crazy. The Time Management Ninja must have known I needed his guidance today, because this appeared in my Twitter Feed, Exposing the Multitasking Myth: 4 Tips to Better Manage Your Time. 

Here are my two favorite takeaways from the article that I hope you will take to better manage your day with:

1) Doing Two Things Simultaneously Will Carry Diminishing Returns
I love this if only for the economic implications. Also, because this one is easy to visualize. It’s why they tell you not to drive and read your email or drive or text. Or really drive and do anything else but pay attention to that darn road.

In an economy where staffs are dwindling because of tightened belts and people seem to think that if you’re already a high performer, you can surely do just a little bit more, this saying hits home. Eventually something is going to have to give and you need to be able to say that out loud to your boss, your project team, your clients, and feel okay about it. Would you rather do 2 things quickly and poorly or do 1 thing well, and then have the time to move on to the next thing proudly? I love a good deadline as well as the next person BUT not at the expense of the projects I’m working on. Sometimes it’s to the benefit of the project to slow down and ask why we’re trying to rush through everything at once.

No one is dying. Take a look at what’s the highest priority project and do that first, or at least split enough time up to do each one well. I’m not saying drag it out, but be deliberate and do with purpose, rather than undue haste.

And hey, if you lose your job because of the slightly longer time to do it well, at least your portfolio pieces will be well done, you know?

2) Prolonged exposure to multitasking increases internal distractions
Like writing a blog post. (squirrel!)

I had a great time-boxed day of projects planned out, so that I wouldn’t need to multi-task. And then it all went to hell in a hand basket. My day started off very organized, and then I had an email about Monica Lewinsky, two more about marketing emails that weren’t making much sense, and then I got a phone call from my son’s preschool saying that he had a 101 fever. Which led to me working on the road, double and triple checking my email, texts, skypes, and Facebook, heightening my exposure to the interaction and keeping me away from the tasks I had laid out for myself today. I’m now trying to salvage my projects but since most of them will take more time than I have left in the work day, it’s probably going to be only half way done, which frustrates me even more.

I can’t do much about it though, which is why I’m writing a blog post about it to help reset my brain as I think through what is now my highest priority that needs to shift to the top of the list.

Is any of this in my control? No, and that’s okay (really). Days like this are good reminders that things happen and you can start over tomorrow. And declare a moratorium to the people I’m working with about the outside distractions like email that I’m only going to be able to check it twice during the day. Others will just have to re-arrange their days slightly if they really need me to weigh in. And my inner-control freak will just need to take a breath at the reminder that I actually cannot do it all.

Multi-tasking never brings great rewards and you, young padawan, know that deep in your heart. Make your to-do list wisely and stay strong when someone knocks on your door or your email dings. Know that you are making the right choice to finish up what you started before you start on something new.

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