How to get more done (by not multitasking)

Does your desk look like a disaster zone? Do you have a zillion unread emails in five different inboxes?

If so, you’ve probably dropped the ball sometime in the last week. Maybe you forgot to do something important. Or you did it, but you forgot to tell anybody you did it. Either way, now somebody’s mad at you.

Are you just a hopeless mess?

Dave Crenshaw says the problem isn’t that you’re hopeless, it’s that you’re “switch-tasking”.

Dave is the author of The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing It All Gets Nothing Done and The Secret to Becoming Irreplaceable.

In his Mixergy course, he shows you how to get on top of your to-do list. Here are three highlights from the course.

1. Not Right Now, Lumbergh, I’m Kinda Busy

When you “multitask”, you think you’re paying attention to two things at the same time. But the human brain doesn’t work that way. Really you’re just switching from task to task very quickly.

The problem is that even tiny, quick “switches” are interruptions that cost you huge amounts of time. How?

“Let’s say I’m typing an e-mail and the phone rings,” says Dave. “I pick up the phone, I say, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ I answer the question. I hang up. Now what do I need to do? I need to figure out where was I in that e-mail, what was I thinking about, what was I typing. So that 30-second phone call will actually end up costing me several minutes or more.”

So what can you do to cut down on interruptions?

Minimize the Number of Switches

The more you can reduce switches, the more time you’ll save.

Dave recommends setting a specific time for responding to texts, phone calls, email, IM messages, Twitter, and Facebook.

“You can answer e-mail, but have a set time to answer e-mail,” he says. “You can answer your phone, but have a set time to go through your voicemail.”

2. Don’t Be a Pig-Pen

Another habit that leads to switch-tasking is creating “piles”.

But you might be thinking, “I know where everything is!” It’s not like you’re about to appear on an episode of Hoarders.

“You may know where everything is, but you have to go to so many different places,” says Dave. “You have to go to five different e-mail accounts to get things, you have to look through five different drawers. All this time is wasted.”

Too many dumping grounds for documents, tasks, dates, and to-do items incur a switching cost.

So how do you clean up your pig sty?

Get Rid of Gathering Points

Gathering points are places you collect things that you need to deal with later.

When you reduce your number of gathering points, you reduce your number of switches.

“The average person has about 30-40 [gathering points], and I recommend that you get it down to six,” says Dave.

You should have a physical inbox for documents, a portable inbox like a slot within your briefcase, one notepad, one email inbox, and one voicemail account. The sixth gathering point is up to you, and can be anything from a second email account to a personal assistant.

3. Embrace the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Another cause of switch-tasking is keeping to-do lists in your head.

When your task list is in your head, you’re constantly distracted. You’re always worried about forgetting something important.

“You’re incurring that loss of time, you’re incurring an increase of mistakes, and you’re increasing stress levels because you are switch-tasking throughout the day and throughout the night,” says Dave.

So how do you stop the mental switch-tasking?

Download to a Gathering Point

Eliminate those internal distractions by putting unresolved stuff into one of the approved six gathering points.

“It doesn’t matter which one you put it into,” says Dave. “Whatever is most convenient, just choose one of those six and put it in.”

Once the to-dos are out of your head, you’re free to stop thinking about them until it’s time to process that gathering point.

Get the rest of Dave’s course here.

Written by April Dykman. Course based on preinterview by Jeremy Weisz.

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  • dean_l

    Nice reading, I like David’s style. I still adore old-school Brian Tracy, he changed my life 10 years ago with such a powerful and simple techniques. I still find myself quoting his words. Eat that frog! :)
    OK, logging to my premium account to download this… Thanks again Andrew.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I think you’ll really like him.

  • http://www.WomackCompany.com Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA

    I “LOVE” the idea of gathering points. As I travel a lot – see ya long the way, http://www.womackcompany.com/contact-us/whereswomack/ – I found I absolutely HAD to narrow the possibilities of where something COULD be.

    Going to watch the rest next…

  • dean_l

    Thanks Andrew. In 10 days we are leaving for a 3 months driving trip through Eruope, so now downloading all interviews and master-classes I missed. How times changed… As a teenager I was listening to music while driving, today it’s Mixergy.

  • http://edwardcaissie.com/ Edward Caissie

    Multitasking is one of the worst ideas ever to be conceived … do one thing at a time; do it well; do it right; then, move on.

  • http://DaveCrenshaw.com/ Dave Crenshaw

    Thanks for the interview, Andrew. It was a lot of fun.

  • http://DaveCrenshaw.com/ Dave Crenshaw

    Hi Jason. I’ve been looking through some of your material and really like your stuff. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607569652 Jeremy Weisz

    Hey Jason! Great to hear from you! Thanks for your comments.

  • http://www.WomackCompany.com Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA

    Dave, you got it! Been followin’ you for a while; great to see you’re out there helping people as you are. THANKS for being a part of Mixergy…

  • http://www.WomackCompany.com Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA

    Good to be here! I’ve been telling EVERY seminar participant (about 400 people in August!) about Mixergy. You made a BIG fan… I tell you.

  • http://www.WomackCompany.com Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA

    Dean, ME TOO! I have a drive, twice per month, from Ojai to Los Angeles International airport. 90-120 minutes, just enough time for a mixergy lesson. Thanks Andrew et al for an AMAZING resource.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607569652 Jeremy Weisz

    Sounds great and make sure they watch YOUR course! It is a good one. You and Dave are part of the dream team for productivity. Always let me know how I can help you.

  • Ben Donahower

    Great suggestions. Although eliminating unneeded switched is great, I *need* the occasional switch. I can focus on one task for a certain amount of time and then I find myself naturally losing focus. I will then switch to another project that I’m working on, preferably one that is considerably different than the previous, and work on that.

  • Ministry Mack

    This has been me over the past month or so at work. The email/phone scenario happened to me this morning.
    Now with Ministry obligations increasing and coaching HS track soon. I must reduce my multi tasks.

  • dean_l

    I think that staying on one task till it’s done is absolutely the core of success. Even great masters in sport always work on their basics as that allow them to stay at the top. But I agree with you Ben – I use exercise as switch. When I have head-banging problem after few hours is failure I usually go for run or gym, even chose some Mixergy podcast that could be related and allow me to get different perspective on the same issue. After exercise I am always so charged to come back and kick those task for hours. I switch my mobile off, don’t check email tell everyone to leave me alone so I can have my brain totally focused. Sometime even loud music & headphones helps, so I don’t hear any noise from outside. But like a bulldog I’ll hold on task till it’s solved.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I didn’t realize you were traveling so much.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    It’s a trap I keep falling into, but I’m working on doing it less and less.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    What I’m at my worst, I do something like switching midway through responding to an email. Multitasking becomes my excuse to procrastinate.

    Does that ever happen to you?

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