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How to Unitask (instead of multitasking and producing poor results)

The most important work you do requires your full, undivided, and focused attention. That work is what produces the real outcomes you need. Being distracted and dividing your attention makes it impossible for you to produce the quality product you are capable of producing.

When you are “multi-tasking,” you are distracted and your attention is spread too thinly across too many things. If you are working on more than one important thing at a given moment, you are working on too many things.

Producing exceptional results requires that you unitask, working only on one thing. Here is how to get started producing better results, better outcomes, and a better work product.

Shut the Browser Down. Yes, Completely.

The Internet is an endless supply of novelty and distraction. It is all at once, the digital radio, the digital television, the digital newspaper, the digital movie theater, the digital magazine, and the digital water cooler. It’s also now become the digital telephone; it allowed you to make calls, take calls, chat, video chat, and hangout. How could you not be distracted?

If you are going to do your best work, you need to close the browser completely. By closing the browser, you eliminate the temptation. And you eliminate what is assuredly your major source of distraction.

Turning Off the Small Screens

I hate turning off my smart phone, regardless of the reason. What if someone needs me? What if I get a text message? I might miss something. I’ll bet you feel that way too.

Giving your full attention to something—or to someone—requires that you take measures to prevent your attention being divided. A ringing smart phone, a text message, or a notification that you received a direct message on Twitter are all distractions. They divide your attention, even if it is only for a moment.

Turn the smartphone off completely (I promise, it’s only temporarily, and everything and everyone will still be here when you get back).

Shut Down Your Email

I don’t know when we collectively decided that email had to be always on and responses instantaneous. But that is the expectation. Have you ever gotten the phone call that starts like this: “Hey did you get the email I sent you?” You say, “When did you send it?” The caller replies: “Just now.” And they mean literally “just now.”

Your email is not your highest priority. In most cases, it’s an elegant system for things that other people are requesting of you. And it is overwhelming. It’s impossibly difficult to do great work or have a meaningful conversation if you are constantly interrupted by a chime or message that someone else demands you attention.

Don’t just turn off your email notifications (but that’s generally a great idea). Close your email program completely, and give yourself over to the task at hand.

Put Your Phone on DND

If you have an office phone, you have another major source of distractions. If you are going to do the highest quality work of which you are capable, you are going to have to avoid the interruptions your office provides.

Put your telephone on “do not disturb.” This will prevent you from getting calls from the outside world, and some of the calls from within your company. But because people can walk down the hall, you’ll need to do more.

Hang a Sign on Your Door

If you have an office door, hang a very polite “do not disturb” notice on your door. Write something like this: “I am doing some really important work right. Please do not disturb. I’ll be coming up for air at 11:00 AM, so leave a note and I’ll get with you then. Thanks!”

If you don’t have a door, hang the sign up somewhere near so that there is no mistaking that you are engaged in serious work. Then work with haste, because even a sign won’t keep the wolves at bay forever.

Work in Small, Super-Focused Spurts

You can’t work like this all day, and you don’t need to. But you do need to focus your full attention for periods throughout the day. That’s what doing your best work requires.

You can only do this super-focused work for small stretches at a time. You can segment your day based on the demands of your work and your energy level. You can go off the grid and unitask in short, super-focused spurts.

Maybe you can block out an hour and half in the morning and another in the afternoon. Maybe you can come off the grid when you have the face-to-face meeting with your dream client, demonstrating to them that, at that time, there is nothing in the world more important than they are. Maybe you can disconnect when you get home for work and spend an hour and half connecting with the most important people in your life?

Work in small, super-focused spurts of no more than an hour and half. But come off the grid and get your most important outcomes.

Work On Only One Thing

And now we get to the heart of unitasking. The real key to unitasking is to work on only one thing at a time. If you are writing, write. If you are making prospecting calls, make prospecting calls and do nothing else. If you are having a critical face-to-face meeting, give that person your full attention.

As I work on one task, lots of ideas pop up. I hate to lose ideas, so I quickly write them down so I can stay with the task at hand.

If you work only on one thing, the quality of your work will be far greater than it would were you distracted. And you’ll be shocked by how much faster you get the outcome you need.

When You Come Up for Air, Take Care of Business

When you are finished with your super-focused work, you can catch up on what you might have missed.

You can return your missed phone calls. You can open your email box to see what the world demanded of you while you were gone. You can reply to your direct messages on Twitter, or check the other many sources of distraction that would have derailed your quality work.

Take care of business when you come up so that you can free yourself for another round of higher quality, off the grid, super-focused work.

Questions

Do you pride yourself on being able to multi-task?

When do you do your highest quality work?

What does it mean when a person is sitting across from you, but their attention is somewhere else?

What do you have to do to eliminate the distractions that prevent you from doing your best work?


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