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Do One Thing At A Time


I use to pride myself on how I could do a million things at once.  I would have multiple SSH terminals into different machines, two email applications open, Facebook in my browser, and three chat applications open at any given time.  I would pride myself on being able to handle so many things at once, and how the work day would just fly by.  I was up on the latest social buzz, involved in many conversations, and programming in the background of all of that.  It is true that I was busy.  It was also true that the work day would fly by.  What was lacking was actually how much I was actually getting done.   

I Wasn’t Killing It

I wasn’t really killing it on any of my projects…at least not during the day.  I guess that is why I always worked late nights, starting at 9pm and ending around 4am to actually get any work done.  During those times, no one was online, my Facebook feed was not really being updated, and I could focus on the project I was working on.  I was much more effective during those late and early morning hours than I was during the work day.  Eventually, I started reading books about efficiency.  Specifically, Brian Tracy’s Master Your Time Master Your Life.   

Don’t Jump Task to Task

Brian’s book talked about doing one thing at a time.  How our brain was not really wired to jump from task to task and that all that task switching was hurting efficiency.  I started to think about how computer processing work.  Things happen in microseconds and task switching on a computer eats up these microseconds.  Over time these microseconds really seem to add up.  Well, our brain is like a big ole computer.  It takes us small amounts of time to switch from one task to another and orient ourselves with what we are doing. As a computer programmer, I could relate to this.  When I would task switch from writing code or troubleshooting a problem to another task, and then back to programming, it would take me a little extra, noticeable, time to get back to where I was.   It was time to test a few things and try to avoid task switching. 

Time to Focus

I decided I was going to focus.  I was going to get rid of the things that were not work, or only do those things on down times.  When I worked, I would focus on work.  When I had a break, I would check on chats, social media, etc…. When I implemented this small change in my schedule, I really started to knock things out.  I was more focused, tasks were getting done, and I was much more effective at my job.  I started to set up time blocks to work on certain things.  This way, when my Apple Calendar app said it was time to work on a project for an hour, I worked on that project, focused, for an hour.  I really started to kick some serious butt regarding the work I was getting done. 

Shed the Constant Interruptions

As I thought more about wasted cycles, task switching, I opted to study efficiency more.  I read a number of books on it and implemented many of the suggestions.  One of the other challenges was the constant interruptions from email alerts, chat notifications, and text messages.  So I made a decision.  I took Tim Ferriss’ advice and decided I would only check email twice a day, thus closing down my email applications.  I disabled the alerts on my Slack messages and pretty much anything that would notify me, with the exception of text messages, specifically iMessages.  I leave those open in the event I am really needed.  One challenge I would find is that I would still get a little distracted.

The Pomodoro Technique

I needed to find a way to discipline myself to be more focused.  So I started implementing the Pomodoro Technique.  This is a technique where you work, focused for 25 minutes straight, and then take a 5 minute break.  Then after 3 sessions, you get a longer 15 minute break.  I found that this technique really works for me and now I am very focused and getting more work done than ever. 

The 5and2Guy Efficiency System

Today, I have a well established system.  Here is how I pretty much work now: 

  1. I set up time blocks to do my work.  I am reminded of these times by my Tick Tick app.
  2. I use the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused during my sessions.
  3. I check email only once a day at 2:15pm.  I was checking it twice a day in the beginning but found that moving it to once a day has worked out even better.
  4. I set goals for myself and make sure tasks to reach those goals are set up to be worked on in the time blocks mentioned in number 1.
  5. Social media sites like Facebook are no longer checked…at all. Well, that’s not true. If my wife tags me or something, I get an email and look at that specific Facebook post.  

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, our brains can only handle one thing at a time and was not built for multi-tasking.  Sure, there are times where multi-tasking can be great.  For example, when you have a few mindless tasks that need to be done and take some wait time in between steps, you can kinda group them together and switch between them.  I find this is pretty efficient.  But for anything that requires the brain power, and push me more towards my goals, focusing on one thing at a time is key.  No matter where you work, you can improve your efficiency by doing one thing at a time.  Focus on your most important task and give it your undivided attention.

I challenge you to think seriously about this and implement some of the things I have implemented to help you focus.  Just watch how your productivity soars. 

Brian Tracy’s book, Master Your Time Master Your Life, really helped my productivity soar.  I strongly recommend you give it a read.  You can get it on Amazon by clicking the book link below:

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