one thing at a time

I like to think that I'm focused but one of my typical work hours could've been described in the first half of this video below (subscribers will need to click through to view).

On one of my latest blog posts, I said I was going to take a sincere stab at doing one thing at a time at work. Like, most of the internet world, I was a chronic multi-tasker. I typically had multiple windows open at a time, two screens going full force and bouncing between project to project every few minutes. I think the video above from Aziz Ansari describes a situation working online perfectly for most of us...digital ADD is ruthless.

So what steps did I take to accomplish my goal?

Clean My Desktop

I'm speaking both in terms of my computer desktop and my actual desk. In order to maintain focus, especially for me, I needed to remove as many potential catalysts for distraction as possible. For my computer desktop, seeing extra files and screen grabs on there made me try and remember why they were there or what those files were sitting out there for. Then I would click through them, dig around and try and provide context for each file sitting on there.

The same held true for my actual desk. The less papers, magazines or files I had lying around, the less my chances were of seeing something out of the corner of my eye and becoming distracted.

Sticking With One Screen

My workspace setup, like a lot of folks, has a two monitor approach. I have my laptop up on a stand and attach that to a second, larger screen. I eventually noticed that most tasks I work on really don't need two screens to max out effectiveness. So, probably around 80% of the time, I close my laptop and work soley off of my larger monitor.

Now, that's not to say that works for everyone. I have several projects where having two screens open is a huge time saver as do probably several people. When I worked in video production during college, I desperately needed two screens. However, if there isn't an explicit need for two screens, working off of one limits the opportunity for distraction for me and helps keep me focused on the task at hand.

Exercising Again

Since running year round competitively for 10 years straight, my attitude towards running (and exercise in general) wasn't the best. I was burned out on the matter. However, as I've noted before on this blog, there is a direct correlation between exercise and cognitive ability. Since exercise helped me stay focused in college and is scientifically proven to help you think better, I figured this variable couldn't hurt.

An Attitude Of Intentionality

This was probably the hardest tactic. My natural instinct is to try and juggle multiple things and bounce around between tasks. However, my experiment made me become cognizant of when my mind started wandering. All the task management tips, lack of screens or apps in the world were no replacement for the internal willingness to stay focused. I learned that I had to want to stay focused to actually do it.

The Results?

My time at work actually decreased. I've actually been able to keep my work pretty close to a 40-45 hour week. Keeping my mind on one task actually helped me accomplish things quicker. In addition, the work became better (I think) with fewer errors and oversights.

The free time has also freed up my brain to be able to take time to read books and news, pay more attention to tasks at home. That's time and energy that's well spent.

It's not to say that there are folks out there who can't multi-task or have the ability to make that decision. I also am  not perfect in this regard. In fact, as I write this post, I am intentionally fighting myself from opening up another tab to check email or read the newest iOS 6 reviews. I'm a work-in-progress and will probably have to be intentional about focus pretty much all my life.

What about you?

What are your thoughts on multi-tasking? Do you have any tips, tricks or tools of the trade that help you be more efficient at work and in life tasks?