June 24, 2011
I always feel like I have 50 things going on. Granted, a lot of it is self-inflicted because I'm always coming up with projects or tasks that I need to do, should do and less often, want to do. I've also been freelancing a little here and there so random projects crop up on a moments notice and as my publisher finishes putting my new cookbook together, I'll get an email asking for another picture, a clarification or some other little task randomly in the middle of the day.
Me & my todo lists (yes that is a puzzle, I do them for stress-relief)
My point is, my "schedule" always feels all-consuming and chaotic. The todo list continues to become longer rather than shorter and just as I start to push through some of it, more piles on. Eventually, when the mound gets really high, and the todo list very, very long, I start feeling panicky and anxious and my solution is to run away and go watch TV or something. This obviously does not help the situation.
I tried to "leave it all up to the universe," throw away my to do list and just live, figuring if it was important, if it mattered, I would get it done. It seemed like a very minimalist-oriented approach to things: only doing what was necessary, as necessary, but I found living this way only made me more stressed and more frazzled.
I was often doing things at the last minute and I found this also meant I wasn't doing as good a job as I would have liked to do. And I just felt stressed the entire time. Plain and simple. There is no zen in chasing after the bus. The worse part to this approach, though, was that I also could never really get ahead.
While I recognize I can't be completely proactive with everything, I can be and should be with some things, so that when the unpredictable curve ball comes my way, it doesn't cause so much chaos and turbulence.
So I started creating a pseudo schedule. I like to say I developed "habits." For example, instead of waiting for the laundry to pile up (universe way) I created a system where I washed sheets, towels and workout clothes on Monday and everything else on Wednesday. Come hell or high water, I do my laundry on these days. The same goes for washing dishes at night. Whether I have 1 dish or 20, I wash them before bed and let me tell you how zen it makes me feel when I wake up to a clean kitchen.
I've more or less broken up my house chores so that they're always taken care of and in small amounts rather than having to schedule in a big cleaning on a weekend. Having this system in place keeps me from falling behind or worrying about when I'm going to do my laundry, or wash dishes, or sweep the floors. Plus, I like a clean and neat house. It really helps reduce my stress.
But even with my house chores taken care of systematically, my work schedule still felt hectic and wild. For as long as I can remember, I've been a multi-tasker. I never do just one thing. Sometimes this is good. For example, I practice my French lessons while I run. But what I've realized this week is that my knack for multi-tasking is very bad, most of the time.
Constantly shifting between tasks is exhausting. When I started to write last week's minimalist post, "Going Minimalist with Social Media," I would periodically stop because my email pinged, or someone would tweet at me, or I'd check to see if the file I was uploading to a client had finished uploading, and so on and so forth. Before I knew it, 2 hrs had gone by. It didn't seem so bad, in those 2 hrs I'd replied to 4 emails, 3 tweets, uploaded two files to my client, looked over a new assignment and wrote a blog post. Productivity at it's finest... right? Wrong.
Switching back and forth between tasks isn't productive. The utility of multitasking is a very fine line. I decided to do an experiment with myself. I would go minimalist with my schedule -- but in a different way: Instead of leaving it up to the universe, I would plow through my to do list BUT one task at a time. I would completely dive into something and only do that, until it was done. No distractions, no noise just me, my attention span and that task.
Now, I'm not embarrassed to admit I needed help with this. I downloaded a program that turned off everything else while I was working (It literally blocks other programs, the Internet, and social media -- if you tell it to). It cost me $10 and when I saw how much I accomplished in the first hour I used it, I decided it was well worth the value.
Comparing 2 hours of productivity:
See how much is open?
Multitasking: I answered 4 emails, replied to 3 tweets, uploaded two files and wrote a blog post in 2 hrs.
Nothing is open but what I'm working on, plus the prompt for Freedom (my noise-canceler). What a zen desk top!
Single-tasking: I wrote 4 blog posts, answered 12 emails, replied to 8 tweets, read a 25-page ebook, edited 20 pictures and worked on my novel (I'm writing a novel)... all in the same 2 hrs.
Now, I still love multi-tasking for some things -- there is no reason why I can't work while my laundry is going, or why I can't practice French while working up a sweat, but tasks that involve serious brain power, no more multi-tasking between them.
It has been shocking....SHOCKING to see how much more work I can accomplish in the same time if I just focus.I finally feel like I have control of my todo list rather than my todo list controlling me.
I'm also leaving on Wednesday for a 2wk business trip/vacation (It's a vacation with a business trip slipped in the middle) and although I couldn't completely get ahead on everything (i.e. I can't predict if my clients will send me work or my publisher will want something from me) anything that I could do in advance, I've already done. Last week alone I accomplished almost three weeks worth of work.
For me, being a minimalist is about being efficient and feeling zen --- and getting things done gives me that. Getting my work done faster also means more time for play and doing things I really want to do.
Has anyone else tried single-tasking? Did it improve your productivity?