Bombarded by a never ending stream of communication, and with less uninterrupted time than our ancestors could possibly imagine – multi-tasking is seen a prerequisite for meeting the fast pace required in the 21st century – but how effective is it?
The ability to dart seamlessly between tasks, much lauded as a necessity of modern life, can lead at best, to time wasting and procrastination, and at worst, a case of rabbit in the headlights style inertia. While jumping from the stove to paying a bill may not have catastrophic consequences, moving from one task to another in our professional lives can become debilitating and can rapidly lead to more serious consequences.
Whether it’s recruitment or invoicing, pitching for new business or developing the business you already have, try refining tasks and focusing on one priority at a time by asking yourself what is the next action I really need to take? Draw on Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle* to help you determine which of your activities are ‘important’, and which are merely ‘urgent’ distractions.
In other words, we need to focus our time on things that are important, and not just the ones that are urgent. Important activities can be defined as those that lead directly to achieving goals, personal or professional. Urgent activities on the other hand, are often associated with achieving someone else’s goals, are often unplanned, and we often find ourselves focusing on these immediate tasks, which can really shape and mould the patterns of our days, and ultimately our working life.
Take a moment to step back from the endless white noise of demands, and focus all your attention on the one important task that really needs auctioning; answering one call, attending one meeting, finishing one report – always keeping the important activities at the forefront of your mind.
Try to categorise your list of tasks in the following way to try and shape your day to achieve maximum productivity:
- Important and urgent
- Important and not urgent
- Not important but urgent
- Neither important nor urgent
Once you can make the distinction between the different types of tasks, you could try and build strategies into your day to deal with the inevitable list of ‘urgents’ before they mount up. Could you delegate to a colleague perhaps? Or Build a pre-agreed buffer within your daily schedule to accommodate other people’s requests without losing sight of your own ‘important’ tasks. Or perhaps it would be valuable to scheduling regular time-slots with those who interrupt you the most?
By putting strategies in place, it will be possible to overcome the natural tendency to give prominence to unimportant urgent tasks, it will help you keep your cool when tasks mount up, to better focus on the important tasks that will shape progress, both personally and professionally.
*Ref: From 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was quoting Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University