A few months ago, I was contacted by a reporter/freelance writer who was looking for experts to interview for an article he was writing on remaining focused and avoiding multitasking for a business magazine in the Capital Region. He interviewed me and we had a great exchange of ideas and conversation. 
 
I am now delighted to share the link to the fantastic article that was published in the September issue of Comstock’s Magazine in Sacramento. The piece is titled “Get Focused: The Science Behind Why Multitasking is Ruining Your Ability to Get Things Done” and is written by Jeff Wilser. He did a great job with the piece! And thankfully, he used a lot of my quotes and content, and attributed them to me. 
 

Hope it helps you stay focused and stop multitasking! Read the article here, 

Most of us want to be more productive and focused. We want to get more done in less time, and work smarter, as opposed to harder. But we also live in the real world, where we have responsibilities, to-do’s piling up, people relying on us, and a laundry list of tasks that we want to get to.

overwhelmed_with_workProductivity isn’t one size fits all, and it is not a bull’s eye that we can always reach. Productivity lives alongside us every day and we are constantly tweaking it and changing it and paying attention to it and reassessing it. I know that sounds exhausting but it’s really not. Look at it as a constant companion that’s helping you get more done, but that also recognizes you are human and that you need a break.

So how do you stay productive and focused, while also giving yourself a break now and then? Enter the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo (yes, an Italian, hence the name, which means tomato in Italian) in the late 1980s. The premise behind the Pomodoro Technique is that taking short, scheduled breaks while working eliminates burn out and distractions, and improves focus.

So how does it work?

pomodoro_techniqueEach Pomodoro lasts for 25 minutes, and is a highly focused work session, followed by a 5 minute break. After 4 Pomodoro intervals, you take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.

You may be thinking… “25 minutes? That’s it. How easy!” Not so fast. The Pomodoro is a highly focused work session, which means no interruptions or distractions are allowed. By other people for sure. But also, not even by ourselves. We tend to task-switch every 3 minutes according to David Meyer, a researcher at the University of Michigan who studies multi-tasking and task switching. That means that we interrupt ourselves constantly throughout the day. We may be in the middle of a task, and think of something else and move to another task (“Oh wait, I forgot to send that email earlier today. Let me just do that now.”) With Pomodoro, you focus on the task at hand only. When you complete your 25 minute Pomodoro interval, then you allow interruptions, self imposed or otherwise.

The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique is its simplicity. You use a timer to break down work into manageable intervals, separated by short breaks. You know there is a light at the end of the tunnel in 25 minutes, so you dive in with full mental acuity and give your work intervals your all. You tend to be more focused and productive, and during your breaks, you give yourself a real break.

What do you do during your breaks? Grab snacks, drink some water, stretch your legs and body, pet your dog, say hello to someone, use the restroom, check social media or email, etc.

The Pomodoro Technique can work well for anyone… students, professionals in an office environment, self employed folks who work from home in an unstructured environment, etc. Indeed, the structure of the Pomodoro Technique is often what makes it work so well.

If you have ADD, the Pomodoro Technique can be very powerful. It helps you focus on the task at hand, knowing that you get a built in break after 25 minutes. You may need to shorten your Pomodoros at first to work up to 25 minutes. Likewise, if you can last longer than 25 minutes and still be highly focused, then stretch your Pomodoros a bit. But not too long, as studies show that too long, and you start to lose focus.

For more information about the Pomodoro Technique, visit http://pomodorotechnique.com, where you will find videos, books, a timer, etc. You can also download the app to help guide you through your work intervals and breaks. Ready to take a bite out of that tomato? Try the Pomodoro Technique and see if it helps you be more productive.

Watch the video here, or read the full article below.

video-superachieverOne of the greatest challenges for busy, successful and creative people juggling several projects, talents and ideas is to live a well-balanced life. If only we could do all that is on our personal and professional ‘to do’ lists while simultaneously attending to our health, nurturing our important relationships and taking good care of our responsibilities.

Everyone knows someone who works full time, volunteers, runs a successful blog, and somehow still finds time to go grocery shopping, cook organic Instagram-worthy meals, foster a loving relationship, walk his or her adorable Boston terrier, and, oh — train for a half marathon. These kinds of “super-achievers” have the same number of hours in the day as the rest of us, but somehow, they always seem to get more done. How do they do it? Here are 5 tips to help you maximize your precious 24 hours daily.

Tip #1: Stop Trying to Win the Crazy-Busy Badge of Honor
crazy_busyStaying busy, but not productive, is the curse of our times. These days we are so busy that we can’t stop talking about it. And busyness has become a cultural symbol of status. Even though people say they’re complaining, they’re secretly bragging. Here are some typical phrases that I often hear from my private clients and audience members:

“I am so tired, I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep!”
“I’m drowning over here!”
“Oh my God, I’m crazy-busy!”

We have to stop the glorification of busy, and realize that no one is really “busy”… it’s all about priorities. We have to stop using this phrase, and take back control so we feel empowered, not depleted.

Tip #2: Use Time Management Tools that Work for You & Stick to Them
One of the key components to time management is to find time management tools that work well for you and then stick to them. Consistency is key! Use one calendar, one master project list or project management tool, and one task management system. It doesn’t matter if they are paper or digital, old fashioned or a fancy new app. The key is to create a system around your habits, needs, work and lifestyle, learn it well, and use it consistently.

Tip #3: Stop Multi-Tasking & Engage in Uni-Tasking Instead
Multi-tasking is generally less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time. Studies show it impairs productivity. It is impossible to do 2 tasks at the same time without compromising each. Research shows that it takes your brain 4 times longer to process than if you focused on each task separately. David Meyer, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has spent the past few decades studying multi-tasking. His research shows that not only is multi-tasking inefficient, but also can cause problems at work, at school, and even, in some cases, be dangerous. Meyer explains, “It takes time to warm up to a new task, especially if both require the same skills.” So focus on one task at a time, give it your full attention, and then move onto the next task.

Tip #4: Use the Power of the Pareto Principle (a/k/a the 80-20 Rule)
The Pareto Principle takes its name from a 19th century Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. In the late 1940s, business management guru Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Pareto, who observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Pareto’s Principle (or the 80/20 Rule as it is often called) means that in any grouping of items or events, a few (20%) are vital and many (80%) are trivial. 80% of our results come from 20% of our activity. That means that of all of the daily activities you do, and choices that you make, only 20% really matter (or at least produce meaningful results).

What is the takeaway that we can learn from the Pareto Principle? Identify and focus on the 20% that matters! When life sets in and you start to become reactive instead of proactive, remind yourself of the 20% you need to focus on. If something in your schedule needs to be deleted or not completed with your fullest attention, try your best to make sure it’s not part of that 20%. Use the Pareto Principle as a litmus test to constantly check in and ask yourself: “Is doing this task or activity right now the highest and best use of my time? Is this truly part of the 20% that matters?” Let the Pareto Principle serve as a powerful daily reminder to focus 80% of your time and energy on the 20% of your work and life that is really important and delivers positive results.

Tip #5: Honor Appointments with Yourself
facialCalendar in your personal to-do’s, along with your professional appointments. Our work calendars fill up quickly with tasks, projects, and events. When was the last time you scheduled something fun for yourself and/or your family? A date night with your significant other? A yoga class, time to read, take a bubble bath, etc.? Give structure to unstructured activities and tasks. Try to reverse your calendar and begin with the premise that you need (and deserve) time for play and relaxation. You schedule those first, as well as previously committed time — like when you sleep, eat, exercise, commute to work, and other blocks of time you must expend each day.

Start practicing proactive, positive productivity using the 5 tips above. And remember, be consistent!

Time is one of our most precious resources. Yet we battle daily to make the best use of it. This presentation addresses how to get more done in less time with less stress by maximizing your productivity and setting priorities. Learn to pinpoint where you need to take control. Improve your comprehension and focus and more effectively perform when juggling people, paper, and priorities. Topics Include: self-assessment, tools of time management, how to say no, project lists and to-do lists, conquering procrastination, the myth of multi-tasking, and dealing with interruptions.

bucketTime management has become one of those over-used terms, in my opinion, and has lost its luster. Many people think that time management an ever-elusive skill or concept that they will never master, and have just sort of given up (kind of like life-work balance, but I will save that for another article!). I think one reason for this is that time management can seem so structured and constrictive, and that can be a real turn off for people. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Time management can be a bit more creative and loose, and yet still powerful and effective. Enter the Bucket Method.

When I speak about productivity, people invariably ask me for the perfect time management system. And generally, I tell them that the perfect system doesn’t exist, as time management is one of those things that is very personal to the user. One person’s dream of a time management system may be the next person’s nightmare. However, I started mentioning this creative concept of time management in a bucket and noticed that it resonated with a lot of people, including attendees in my audiences and my private coaching clients.

15minutesMany of my clients ask me to put them on a strict time map type program, where we map out their week and define blocks of time on their calendar with chunks of activities. For example, Mondays from 9-11 they reply to email, from 11-12, they return phone calls, from 1-4, they work on expenses and financials, from 4-5, they work on marketing activities, etc. This type of structured time approach can work wonders for some people. But for others, it can feel like a straight jacket! And then they rebel, which is just human nature when a system feels too confined and you yearn to break free from it.

So how does the Bucket Method work? It’s simple actually (and that’s part of what makes it so powerful, as you don’t need a PhD in time management to implement it!). We all have projects and tasks that we need to tend to. Some of them are deadline driven and some are more open ended. They fall into several major categories (personal, home, business/career, etc.) and can be broken down into smaller tasks. The first plan of action is to dump all of the projects and tasks into a Master Project List. That is what you will use to fill your buckets (some people do this visually, by putting post it notes on a chalk board for example and then choosing those projects/tasks and dropping the post it notes into a “bucket” for a day; others do it virtually by adding these tasks to their calendar on their smart phone).

What the Bucket Method focuses on is choosing a theme for each day (or a few themes, but not a ton of them), and then filling that day’s “bucket” with anything that matches that theme. For example, some business owners use a theme on Mondays of Marketing. Anything on your project or task list that pertains to Marketing can be dropped into that bucket and you can focus on it that day. Some people do errands on a Saturday, so they fill that bucket with all of the errands on that day, rather than scattering them throughout the week. You can choose a few themes for your bucket, but not too many (or it will be a scattered, multi-tasking kind of day, which studies show is not the best use of time and energy).

calendarHow do you organize your time within a bucket? However you want! I know that sounds sacrilegious but the key isn’t a strict compartmentalization of projects and tasks each day, but to stick with what’s in the bucket. Interestingly, many people still get a lot more done than they used to without the bucket method. Why? I can only surmise here, but my guess is that they choose the theme for the buckets based on their interests, energy level, and what else is going on in their life and work (maybe even based subliminally on priorities or deadlines without that hitting them over the head as a requirement). It actually allows them to choose what they want to do out of what they have to do.

Sure, some people would just leave a project or task on the Master List that they don’t want to do and procrastinate over it by never filling a bucket with it. But by and large, most people that try this start filling their buckets and getting stuff done! They find it freeing, and that feels very anti-time management, even though it is indeed a time management system. Because when it comes right down to it, we can’t really manage time anyway. What we are managing is the process of filling our time with projects and tasks. And when we feel like we have control over that through the Bucket Method, but not so much control that we feel smothered, then it seems for some people to be just right.

Recently, I posted the following series of questions on my Facebook business page: How do you define being “productive”? Do you think of it as literally producing more? Or is it about helping you feel more in control or “balanced”? Do you tie it into impacting your bottom line and making more money? Or is that less important to you than its affect on your peace of mind?

checklist_completeWhat was fascinating to me was not only the answers themselves, but the way the answers diverged so much. It appears that productivity is a very personal matter. When it comes to productivity, it’s different strokes for different folks. From my years of experience researching, writing about, and working with clients to improve productivity, I have noticed that there are many approaches to productivity. And the answers that I received to my questions above confirmed this.

In order to be more productive, some people need to literally do more. Others need to do less. Then there is doing the right things at the right time in the most effective way possible. Using the qualifier “right” (as defined by you), helps to really home in on what makes the most impact to help one be productive, as opposed to just being busy. So there are many layers and levels to productivity.

Some people do, in fact, think of being productive as producing more, or getting more done. And that’s not a big surprise as to be productive literally means to produce. Therefore, many of us tend to translate being productive to mean that we need to keep doing and going and producing, and all at the same time. However, this can cause a ton of stress in our lives and make the quality of what we are producing decrease. I am just as guilty of that as others. So it takes a brave person to realize that you can have it all, but just not at the same time! This is a perfect example of why multi-tasking is not always the best course of action.

In fact, many people are busy for no reason, or for the wrong reason. They think it makes them more productive. Or they feel more productive because of all of the activity, but yet they aren’t truly more productive. Busy does not equal productive at all. That is one of the biggest fallacies of our society these days.

prof_womanWhat about using productivity to feel (and be) more at peace, happy, and successful? For many people, this is a better measurement of productivity. My personal definition of productivity falls more into this category. To me, being productive is accomplishing what I set out to do. That makes me feel personally productive as I have identified particular items as important and prioritized them, so they are the ones I should be focusing on. But it is less about having more, or even doing more, but feeling balanced, in control, and at peace. In fact, I have realized over the years that I am a productive as a means to living a successful and passionate life. If I were just productive for the sake of productivity, I would not be as happy or feel as balanced.

Why are differences in the definition of productivity important to recognize? For one, productivity consultants need to keep this in mind and can’t try to give a “one size fits all” solution to clients. From my perspective, most productivity consultants are quite aware of this, but it still bears mentioning. And all of us need to give this some thought and determine what our personal definition of productivity is. That is the best way to measure whether we feel (and are) productive. We first have to know what being productive truly means to us.

So I encourage you to determine what YOUR personal definition of productivity is. Don’t worry so much about what everyone else is doing or thinking. Yes, it is great to read, research, model and learn all about productivity (trust me, I am obsessed with it!) But it is also important to march to the beat of your own drum, and measure your success in the area of productivity against your own personal standard.

There’s still “Time” to sign up for my upcoming course, Make Time for This! Effective Time Management through Pace University’s Professional Development Program. This event is open to the public, so come join me. Click here for details and to register.

Time is one of our most precious resources. Yet we battle daily to make the best use of it. This workshop addresses how to get more done in less time with less stress by maximizing your productivity and setting priorities. Learn to pinpoint where you need to take control. Improve your comprehension and focus and more effectively perform when juggling people, paper, and priorities.

Topics Include:

  • Self-assessment
  • Tools of time management (calendars/PDAs/daily planners)
  • How to say no
  • Project lists and to-do lists
  • Conquering procrastination
  • The myth of multi-tasking
  • Dealing with interruptions.

The Details:

Date: Friday, May 11, 2012
Time:
9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Location: Pace University Midtown Center
551 Fifth Avenue at 45th
New York, NY
Tuition: $195 (includes all materials)

Click here for details and to register.

“To do two things at once – is to do neither.”
~ Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus, 100 A.D.

When we need to accomplish many tasks, we do 2-3 things at once, sometimes more. We do this in order to be more productive. Multi-tasking has basically become the American way. In fact, employers often include “multi-tasking” as one of the desirable traits they look for in job descriptions. But is multi-tasking really leading to increased productivity?

According to some experts, the answer is no. Multi-tasking is generally less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time. Studies show it impairs productivity. It is impossible to do 2 tasks at the same time without compromising each. Supposedly, it takes your brain 4 times longer to process than if you focused on each task separately.

David Meyer, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has spent the past few decades studying multi-tasking. His research shows that not only is multi-tasking inefficient, but also can cause problems at work, at school, and even, in some cases, be dangerous. Meyer explains, “It takes time to warm up to a new task, especially if both require the same skills.” Apparently, the transition time between switching back and forth from one task to another is where multi-tasking starts to result in decreased productivity.

In addition, studies show that some tasks that are frequently grouped together conflict with one another causing a decrease in productivity. Have you ever been writing an e-mail and chatting on the phone, and realize that you are saying what you are typing, or typing what you are saying? Supposedly, it’s impossible to do both of these tasks well because each requires language skills and short-term memory. What about reading your email and talking to someone at the same time? If you’re trying to actually read your email, as opposed to maybe just skimming the names in your inbox, conversation with someone becomes difficult because you’re tackling two language activities at once: reading and listening.

Meyer has also studied the effect of multi-tasking on students (stay with one homework assignment at a time, kids), and on cell phone use while driving (read: don’t do it unless you are prepared to seriously impede your ability to drive). To see some of Meyer’s work on multi-tasking, visit his page at the University of Michigan.

Some people feel that multi-tasking helps them to stay fresh and alert, not get bored, and ward off fatigue. Some even claim that they can’t help it, as their brain gets easily distracted and goes from one thought and task to the next. However, most experts agree that the average person does not know how to multi-task well and, therefore, should refrain from doing it at all. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute has spent a great deal of time studying multi-tasking and writes, “Multi-tasking is the enemy of extraordinariness. Human beings, sorry to say, can focus fully on only one thing at a time. When people multi-task, they are not fully engaged in anything, and partially disengaged in everything. The potential for profoundly positive impact is compromised. Multi-tasking would be okay–is okay–at certain times, but very few people seem to know when that time is.” For more information on Jim Loehr’s research on multi-tasking, visit the Human Performance Institute.

Some people claim to truly thrive on multi-tasking. But are they really increasing their productivity in a quantifiable manner, or just giving themselves (and perhaps others) the perception that they are getting more done? If you are really getting things done in a more productive manner by using multi-tasking, fine, and good for you. You have somehow managed to prove the experts wrong. But, if you have too many balls in the air, you may need to re-think your strategy — unless you learn how to juggle.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Do you often miss personal and professional deadlines? Do you feel frustrated due to failing to carry out your priorities?

Then join me for “Time Management” at Pace University’s Professional Development Program on Tuesday, April 6, 2010 from 9 am – 4 pm at Pace University Midtown, 551 Fifth Avenue at 45th Street, New York, NY.

Time is one of our most precious resources.  Yet we battle daily to make the best use of it.  This comprehensive workshop addresses how to get more done in less time with less stress by maximizing your productivity and setting priorities. Learn to pinpoint where you need to take control.   

Topics Include: Self assessment, tools of time management (calendars/PDAs/daily planners), how to say no, project lists and to-do lists, conquering procrastination, the myth of multi-tasking, and dealing with interruptions.

If you are ready to tackle the time management beast, click here for more details and to register.

Hope to see you there!