Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Ability to Single-Task

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

The past few days haven’t been terrific and the fault for this lies squarely with me.
So…I dropped my phone in water.  Apparently, this is not a good thing to do to smart phones.  Not only did I drop it in water, I didn’t even realize I’d dropped it into water.  There was no quick rescue, so the phone was submerged for quite a while.  Once I discovered it, I tried sticking it into a bag of quick-rice, but boy, that thing was dead.
I have also broken a plastic container that was full of leftovers (yes, this is hard to do! But somehow…), chipped a bowl, ran into a doorjamb, and burned two things I was cooking.  Even for me, this is a long list of issues.
The interesting thing is that after my phone was destroyed (it was actually the last in the series of unfortunate events), I immediately stopped having these calamities.  I’m not going to blame my phone 100%, but it apparently was a significant contributing factor.

A mom-oriented blog that I frequently read recently warned against the hazards of distracted living  in a post by a mother whose child could have drowned in a tub while she was distracted…the kind of cautionary tale to strike fear in a parent’s heart.
I do multi-task some things very well.  If one of the things is completely mindless…ordinarily housework of some kind or exercise…then I can do it and write the next scene of my book in my head or plan a blog post or do any other thoughtful task.
But if something requires attention—whether it’s a conversation with someone or measuring ingredients for supper—then I should just focus 100% on what I’m doing.  Plus, it’s just really starting to stress me out to do too much at one time. I get a sort of a frantic feeling.
Not only that, I’ve noticed a distinct problem with single-tasking.  I’ve gotten so capable at multi-tasking, that my single-tasking abilities have taken a nosedive.
The phone’s accessibility and bright, shiny icons mean that I check email and social media more than I intend to.  And, when I check them, I’m usually doing something else at the same time.
What also feeds into this is a general restlessness that I have. It’s also present when I write. 
My top tip for combatting restlessness for writing time is to:
 1) Either close all the windows I have open, turn off email/Twitter/Facebook/other notifications, unplug the modem, or go somewhere with no WiFi (increasingly hard to do)
 2) Then set a timer for myself for writing.  Either use Online Stopwatch or I’ll Google “set timer for ___minutes” and let Google count it down.
3) Get done what I need to get done in the space before that restlessness strikes –for me, that will usually be about twenty minutes— and then do something else for twenty minutes…ordinarily for me, that’s going to be something active (if, obviously, I haven’t left the house to write). 
4) Then write for another twenty minutes, especially if I’m on deadline.  Repeat until I hit whatever my goal is.
Now I just need to apply that approach to the rest of my day and I should be golden. :)  I get more done when I’m single-tasking, I feel less-stressed, and whatever I’m focusing on is better-completed.
This is, for those of you who want to adapt it for yourself, basically the Pomodoro technique and I’ve been using it off and on since I heard about it. Michael Hyatt explained it well in this post: How to Use Batching to Become More Productive.  It works well for me for task-completion.
When I single-task, I get more done, faster. When I get more done, I have more time to stare into space and brainstorm and form ideas.  I always know I haven’t had enough quiet time in my day when I start getting tons of ideas right before I fall asleep…it’s sometimes the only moment of the day when I’m not juggling several things at once. 
How is your multi-tasking?  How does it affect your writing, if it does?  If you multi-task well, how well can you single-task?   
Image: MorgueFile: Seemann