Posts Tagged ‘multitasking’

Three Ways to Actually Be Productive

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Three Ways to Actually be Productive Pareto Principle Time Management Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuce Fresh IdeasThere are countless sites and blog posts dedicated to productivity; it’s even the most popular category on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog. But what are we talking about when we talk productivity? Is it improving focus, or just getting more done? And why is it that we still feel the need to spend our time (which could be spent productively) reading about other people’s productivity habits and looking for lifehacks to make us more productive?

Here’s what productivity is not: It’s not about forcing yourself to work until midnight and rise at 5 a.m. every day. More time awake does not equal more stuff done.

Productivity is not multitasking. Sometimes, you can’t avoid trying to do two things at once. But if you’re busy writing one thing and talking about another, you’ll wind up spending more time trying to do two things at once and going back and fixing them than you would if you gave things the proper attention in the first place. Focus provides clarity; this applies to activities, priorities and thinking.

Finally, productivity is not about doing everything, but doing what is important. Because no one can do everything, and that’s okay.

Take Breaks

There’s a real stigma around relaxation, be it actually using the vacation days you’re allotted, or stepping out for a break to take a walk and recharge. We think if you don’t look like you’re doing something, you must be lollygagging, and that toxic mindset is itself counterproductive.

If you’d been walking for two hours, you’d stop to rest, right? So doesn’t your brain need a rest after working for two hours? It does, so start building breaks into your day to recharge your mental energy. It’s usually a lot easier to focus after coming back from a break and letting your brain think about something else – or nothing at all – for a few minutes. Plus, a lot of “Aha!” moments come during mental downtime, like when we’re driving, walking, washing dishes, or just being.

Then Do Stuff

Of course, the flip side is disciplining yourself to actually do something after taking a break. But this is a matter of discipline, not work ethic. The best way to establish good habits is to start piecemeal, and getting started is always the hardest part. If you’re really having trouble doing anything or starting a certain project, work in digestible chunks.

Sometimes getting things accomplished requires delegation and collaboration for the best result.  Collaboration can create the “mental break” cycle you need to re-visit more stagnant activities and finally see them through to completion. Teamwork works.  Experiment with what helps you to be most productive and satisfied with your efforts, find the sweet spot, and stick to it.

But Only Do Stuff That Matters

Almost everything is unimportant – even the Harvard Business Review says so. Trying to do everything results in achieving almost nothing. The workaround? Look at everything you do. Chances are, about 20 percent of your effort achieves about 80 percent of your results. This is the Pareto Principle, and it works the other way: 80 percent of efforts achieve just 20 percent of results.

Determine the few things that get results and make those priority tasks. The Harvard Business Review suggests writing a list of your top six things to get done, then crossing off the bottom five and scheduling a 90-minute block to work on just the top item. Every time you go to check social media or email, write down what you’re about to do. Of course, this means avoiding distraction, and that again comes down to discipline and working piecemeal. You might not do it perfectly the first time, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get at getting in a routine, blocking out distraction, and focusing on what’s actually important.

Just Add Mindfulness: The Right Way to Multitask

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Just Add Mindfulness: The Right Way to Multitaks Productivity Sebouh Gemdjian BurrellesLuce Fresh IdeasThe problem: The phone keeps ringing, projects pile up, we try to multitask, but all we keep thinking about is the project we’re not doing, so we sacrifice quality and blame it all on limited time and resources.

The cause: “We’re saddled with a Stone Age mind in a digital world,” Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn told Google employees as he introduced them to meditation in 2007. A pioneer of blending Western medicine with mindfulness meditation, Kabat-Zinn is a molecular biologist, a trained Zen teacher, and founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In that talk at the “Googleplex” in Mountain View, Calif., Kabat-Zinn defined the Stone Age mind as the tendency to fall into obsession with doing (as in the next thing to survive) and ignore the doer (as in the one active right now).

In her book The One Who is Not Busy—Connecting with Work in a Deeply Satisfying Way, Zen teacher Darlene Cohen writes that we fail at multitasking when we stay in the perception of the whole (our schedule), and don’t settle on anything because we keep shifting focus. When we’ve taken the time to settle on the doer, who only exists when we’re actually doing something, our schedule is a balanced interconnectedness of tasks, and when we haven’t done that our schedule appears chaotic.

The solution: According to Cohen we can find relief by “matching focused awareness to whatever motions our hands and bodies are actually doing at the moment.” It is much more satisfying than paying attention to something we’re not doing. I’ve found it useful to include sensations in the body as part of the activities to be aware of. Once our feet are firmly planted in our current activity, we can look at the rest of our schedule for perspective and then go back to the task at hand. She calls this type of focus “simultaneous inclusion.” Dr. Zinn presents his version of this point in this short, guided meditation taken from his 2007 Google talk.

Here is an exercise from Cohen’s book that is strikingly useful in the workplace, called “Talking Meditation”:

“In any conversation, short or long, tune in to your own breath at least three times while (1) listening to another person speak, and (2) while you yourself are talking… This is true simultaneous inclusion. You are thinking and feeling your breath at the same time… Your breath gives you the distance you need from the conversation in order to participate in it from real interest rather than from habitual conditioning.”

Maintenance: Zoketsu Norman Fischer, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center and frequent speaker at the Brooklyn Zen Center, teaches a course called “Mindfulness in Legal Education.” The group has a mission statement outlining examples of specific perspectives connected to meditation that foster productivity and inspiration.

One perspective includes wisdom and creativity. Meditating on awareness of the breath and letting thoughts come and go without grasping brings more self-honesty, less distortion, and a unity of mind and heart. As anyone looking for inspiration for a new project will attest, passion and logic in the right ratio rev up the creative engine, and meditation can be a means of ignition accessible anywhere.

Compassion is beneficial to productivity, as it inspires empathy, connectedness and teamwork. It is a meditative perspective that happens when we fail at balancing focus on our current tasks with mindfulness of their context. Once we realize that what we’re doing at that moment is failing, the way everyone does sometimes, we can go back to a clear, inspired perspective of our priorities. Insight meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg calls it “exercising the letting-go muscle” in her talks. When we remember it’s all about starting again fresh, motivation and inspiration usually follow.

Further reading:

Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement and Peace by Sharon Salzberg

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind By Shunryu Suzuki

To Meet the Real Dragon by Gudo Nishijima

Sailing Home by Norman Fischer

Arriving at Your Own Door by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Sound of Silence by Ajahn Sumedho

K.I.S.S. Unplugged

Friday, November 12th, 2010

by Rich Gallitelli*

Although it would be interesting to hear songs from the album “Destroyer” acoustically, I am talking about the acronym, not the band:  K.I.S.S., “Keep It Simple Stupid” or “Keep It Short and Simple.” My BurrellesLuce colleague, Cathy Del Colle recommends this principal to our team and clients each day. However, K.I.S.S. hasn’t quite effectively crept into all parts of our everyday lives…

Flickr Image Source: ryantron

Flickr Image Source: ryantron

I attended a luncheon, this past September, hosted by the Publicity Club of New York. The panel consisted of five senior TV producers/reporters who cover business news, all providing insight for PR professionals on effectively pitching their ideas.  All five panelists essentially preached the same mantra “You have to get your pitch across within the first three sentences of your email; otherwise, the email is deleted.”  Yes, three sentences. For a novice like me, that was an eye opener.

Afterwards, I began to realize that the essence of that statement has pretty much defined how we now interact as a society. Real time news – or more precisely, “today’s news yesterday” – TV shows with 45 second scenes, initialisms and acronyms, and our inner most thoughts in 140 characters or less are just a few of many examples. We also have a host of devices and websites such as Twitter, Facebook, video games, Droids, iPods, and iPad all designed to help keep connecting simple. When was the last time you went to a conference or even a coffee shop without seeing people typing away on their BlackBerries? Even the world of sports, once the cradle for colorful nicknames, has also fallen victim to our need for “simplicity.” The Yankee Clipper, Earl the Pearl, Larry Legend, and Magic, have given way to the mundane A-Rod¸ D-Wade, and T.O.  And we won’t even begin to discuss what our teachers have to deal with, while grading papers in the advent of the texting era.

Has our appetite for instant access and gratification been borne out of a lack of creativity or are we so plugged into technology that we simply do not have the time to use our creativity? In other words, has our need to “Keep it Simple” gone to the extreme and become counter-intuitive? (If you need any more evidence, I have two words: Speed Dating!) So where is the balance?

A group of researchers from the University of Stanford performed a study that found “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

After putting about 100 students through a series of three tests, the researchers realized the heavy multitaskers are paying a big mental price.

“’They’re suckers for irrelevancy, said communication Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ‘Everything distracts them.’” 

In each test, the light multitaskers out performed the heavy multitaskers. “’When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,’ said Anthony Wagner, an associate professor of psychology. ‘That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.’”

In short, the human brain is not designed to multitask and hold all that information. When interviewed for this BurrellesLuce newsletter, Carol Schiro Greenwald of Greenwald Consulting, who was not involved in the study, explained: “We can’t multitask because the brain isn’t set up that way. It is set up to think in logical order, from general to specific. If you stop doing something in the middle — Think about when you start doing it again. You have to go back to the beginning.”

So while I am not advocating we become inefficient while on the job, I am advocating a re-evaluation of “Simple.” Perhaps it is a matter of unplugging from the world and our “need for now” while at home. In essence, apply the K.I.S.S. method at times when we are not on vacation, even if it is only for just an evening or a weekend. This Saturday, do not tweet that you are brushing your teeth, even if your dentist is following you on Twitter. Take a drive or a walk. Visit your parents, or a relative you haven’t seen in awhile. They will thank you for it and so will your eyes and brain. (Just don’t use the word decompress, it sounds so decompressing.) After all, life goes by in a blink and it’s much sadder if you haven’t noticed a tree until you are 65.

We may need information now and have the technology to get it; but, let’s face it, sometimes what we think will simplify things only makes it more complicated. But don’t worry. Monday morning, it’ll all come flooding back to you – the LOLing, the the multitasking, real-time news, etc – the moment you walk out the front door, or more precisely when you begin your morning commute. 


*Bio: Richard Gallitelli brought a wealth of sales and customer-service experience when he came to BurrellesLuce in 2007. His outstanding performance as a sales associate and personalized shopper for Neiman Marcus (he also has worked for Nordstrom) earned him a nomination by Boston magazine as “Best of Boston” sales associate for high-end retail fashion stores. Rich’s talents also won him praise and a profile in the book, “What Customers Like About You: Adding Emotional Value for Service Excellence and Competitive Advantage,” written by best-selling business author Dr. David Freemantle. Rich majored in English Literature at William Paterson University, and is a published poet and short-story writer. Facebook: BurrellesLuce Twitter: BurrellesLuce LinkedIn: BurrellesLuce