All of us have had the experience of doing too many things at once. Of driving while listening to the radio, eating a burrito and talking to a friend all at once. While it’s amazing that human beings can juggle so many things at once — a testament to our versatility — it’s also a fantastic way to end up with salsa in your lap, or even to get into an accident. (Check out Werner Herzog’s heart-rending documentary, From One Second to the Next, about the perils of driving while texting.)
Other situations may not be quite as dangerous, but still there are drawbacks to splitting your attention. Imagine college students say, trying to win at a video game; drink alcohol; listen to music; talk to several friends; eat a pizza; and flirt with potential sex partners at the same time. While that can be fun, they will probably fail or do poorly at most of them. Simultaneously doing a good job at so many activities is hard. And the old adage that anything worth doing is worth doing well, is still as true as it ever was.
The antidote to doing too many things at once is, of course, to only do one thing at a time. That’s the most basic definition of concentration: doing one thing at a time.
Doing one thing at a time is probably the most basic habit of concentration, and one of the most powerful. It is the easiest thing you can do to create a massive increase in your ability to focus.
The term for working with split attention is multitasking. Multitasking enjoys a great reputation currently, but he fact is that we are never actually multitasking. Instead the brain switches between each task quickly, and does each activity in succession. The trouble is that each task switch actually has a cost overhead. It’s not easy for your brain to switch tasks. It takes time and invokes a second level of executive functioning, meaning that you have to use a lot of resources to switch tasks. This task-switching overhead can actually become quite a drain on your overall effectiveness. You’ll do each thing much worse than if you had done it on its own. And the task-switching overhead multiplies exponentially with the number of things being juggled.
That means when you reduce the number of things you are mentally juggling, the cognitive cost is vastly reduced. Just changing from three objects to two objects frees up a tremendous amount of overhead. The best, however, is to reduce the number of things you are doing or thinking about to one at a time. This lowers the juggling overhead to zero, and allows you to focus 100 percent of your brain on a topic.
Develop a habit of doing one thing at a time.
Living in a world of distractions is nothing more than a habit we have gotten used to. The answer is to begin making a new habit of doing just one thing at a time. Every time you catch yourself doing too many things at once, come back to just the essential thing that matters. Practice this all day long, whether working or playing. Gently remind yourself, “One thing at a time.”
Success depends on having good self discipline and good boundaries with other people. If someone interrupts you, or engages you while you are busy, stop and let them know that you’ll get back with them later. Or if it can’t wait, completely stop what you are doing, engage with the person, and then once everything is handled come back to what you were doing previously.
Usually the hardest person to maintain such firm boundaries with is yourself. Our habits of distraction have developed over an entire lifetime. We crave a superfluidity of stimulation in the environment, almost like an addiction. There is an almost physical urge to turn on the television, or to check the smartphone.
You can quickly determine how strong this need for distraction is by experimenting with doing just one thing at a time. Shut everything off and do something simple with no distractions. The first thing that happens, often, is that mind begins to complain “This is boring. There’s something on TV. Why can’t I just play some music? What’s wrong with eating while studying?” And so on. You might experience anything from mild discomfort to an almost irresistible compulsion to bring back the distractions.
That’s okay. That’s the starting place. Just have compassion for yourself, and attempt to enforce some discipline about doing one thing at a time while trying to concentrate. Concentrating without distractions will eventually reveal itself to be incredibly pleasant. Unlike getting tangled up in a spaghetti of distractions, it can leave you feeling energized and refreshed. Strong, stable focus can really increase your feelings of satisfaction and sense of richness in whatever you are doing. You can even enter flow — a very calm, focused state that is so pleasurable it’s worth doing for its own sake, regardless of the activity. It’s not that difficult. All it takes is a little practice.
So try doing one thing at a time. And read the rest of the “Concentration Series“ to learn more about how to increase your powers of attention.
This article was written by Michael Taft, a meditation teacher, bestselling author, and neuroscience junkie. As a mindfulness coach, he specializes in secular, science-based mindfulness training in groups, corporate settings, and one-on-one sessions.
A couple months ago, I found myself “working” from morning until bed time, nearly everyday. It wasn’t because I had hideous piles of projects to tend to, nor because of excessive deadlines or work-related burdens. The reason? I was unproductive. I’d spend an hour on a client project and then get lost in The Black Hole of Facebook for an internet eternity. Or I’d research something for a blog post and then click around Buzzfeed or Instagram or Twitter and completely forget what the hell I was trying to do in the first place. Friends would coo about how lucky I was to have a flexible schedule and I was just over here like, “if getting shit done were a sport, I’d be picked last.”
So I changed things. A lot of things, actually.
On the bright side, most of the things I shook up were easy fixes. I didn’t have to buy expensive software or completely restructure my day. The toughest part was just acclimating myself to a new routine. Not bad, right? Here are a few things that have really helped me in my quest to drastically increase my productivity. Because getting shit done is actually kind of awesome. Who’da thunk?
1. Have one desk for technology and one desk for everything else.
I actually remember reading this tip in Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Arist a couple years ago, but only recently put it into practice. Let me tell you: it kicks ass. This especially works well for creative-type jobs where you deal with both physical and digital elements. In my case, I do sketches and lettering at one desk and designing and blogging at another. By the way, my “other desk” is actually just my kitchen table…no need to be fancy! It really helps to have sectioned-off areas for specific tasks. It also means that I don’t get sidetracked by my phone when I’m working on ideas for a logo.
2. Turn off social media notifications on your phone.
In fact, I recommend just deleting the apps altogether. I used to check Facebook and Twitter on my phone 900 times a day. I wouldn’t retain anything I read. It was like those moments in college when I tried opening my science textbooks — my brain just fell asleep. Now, instead of immediately checking Facebook at the first buzz of my phone, I open it in my web browser when I plan to spend a few intentional minutes on it, mostly seeing what my friends are up to.
3. Make priority lists, not to do lists.
I used to make to do lists — you know, the kind with 97 items on them with no listed deadlines or level of importance. Writing out my to do lists made me feel productive, but at the end of the day, when I found only 30% completed, I realized I was doing them all wrong. Now, I make priority lists, and I’ve been using an app called Clear that makes them really easy (and almost kind of fun in a Type A kind of way). You basically just make your to do lists in separate, organized lists, and then order each item by importance and urgency, so that “doing laundry” isn’t listed as highly as “install client website.” You can set reminders, and I always write the deadline next to each listed item as well. It’s been massively helpful!
4. Spend mornings getting things done.
I’m not particularly a morning person, so every morning, I used to coax myself out of bed by scrolling through Instagram and responding to emails. But I found that waking up this way always killed my productivity (and creativity). By the time I was finished, it was nearly afternoon and I was cross-eyed with trying to reach inbox zero and desired taking a nap more than finishing anything else on my to do list. Now, I try not to check my email or any social media accounts until after lunch. Instead, when I wake up, I immediately start working on my big items for the day, according to what is highest on my Clear schedule. Not only does it feel awesome to have accomplished so much by noon, but it also means that I can relax with emails and social media after lunch, when I’m tired anyways.
5. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
You know what I’d do when I’d spend too long doing nothing when I should have been doing a whole lot of somethings? I’d get a little angry with myself. Being mad at myself certainly didn’t make me want to accomplish more. In fact, it probably made me want to do even less. Now, when I realize I’ve been lazing around for too long, I forgive myself and move on.
This article was written by Melyssa Griffin, a successful online teacher, writer, and an entrepreneur who specializes in topics like list-building, online course creation, webinars, and Pinterest marketing.
Your attitude defines and delimits your level of success. If you have a generally lousy attitude, you’ll never really be successful. If you have a generally upbeat attitude, however, you’ll always achieve at least some level of success.
Your attitude determines how you interpret what events mean. Take obstacles, for example. Everyone who pursues any goal will inevitably run into obstacles. Your attitude determines what those obstacles mean and therefore how well you deal with them.
If you have a lousy attitude, you’ll see obstacles as threats and annoyances. Even if you overcome them, you’ll find the process frustrating, which will make future obstacles harder to cope with.
If you’ve got a positive attitude, you’ll see obstacles as interesting or even fun. Even if you fail to overcome them, you’ll find the process invigorating, which will make future obstacles easier to overcome.
I ran into (or, more actually, almost ran into) a perfect example of this the other day. I was trying to find a parking space in a covered car lot. Suddenly, another car zipped around a blind corner and we would have crashed if we both hadn’t quickly braked.
My first thought was: “Wow, I’m sure glad that we (meaning me and the other driver) have fast reflexes!” I’m not exactly sure what the other driver thought, but she gave me the single-finger salute accompanied by an expletive.
Same event, different attitude.
Now, it’s never pleasant to be the target of that kind of animosity, but my next thought was to feel sorry for her. She was in a small car with four kids and clearly having a horrible day. (I felt sorry for the kids, too.)
Clearly still furious, she drove off even faster than she’d been driving before. I, however, slowed down because I took the almost-accident as a warning that I needed to pay more attention to my driving.
Same event, different attitude, opposite outcome
The outcome for the other driver was an action that made her drive more dangerously and thus increase the possibility that she’d actually have a fender-bender next time. My outcome was to make me a better driver.
Everything in business is exactly like this. Stuff happens. Your attitude determines how you interpret and experience those events, and therefore strategies and tactics you’ll follow in the future.
This is not to say that people who suffer from lousy attitudes don’t win sometimes. They do, but it’s always with massive hassle and complaint. When they finally win, they feel exhausted.
Similarly, having an upbeat attitude doesn’t bulletproof you against failure. You’ll fail sometimes, but your attitude makes it easy to learn from your mistakes. And when you do win, you feel exhilarated.
Some people believe that their lousy attitude is part of who they are. Not so. As I explain in “How to Create a Positive Attitude,” your attitude is something that you’re doing. It’s not a character trait.
Furthermore, there are at least 8 ways to improve your attitude and 17 ways to be happier at work. I know these methods work from personal experience. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but 20 years ago, I would have been the driver doing the salute.
Regardless of what you do for a living, your real job–the foundation of what you will or won’t accomplish–is your attitude. The more upbeat you are, the more likely you are to be successful at whatever you do.
This article was written by Geoffrey James, contributing editor for Inc.com and an author and a professional speaker whose award-winning blog, Sales Source, appears daily on Inc.com.
Whether you’re saving for a second car, a family vacation or a rainy day, big financial goals can feel intimidating. Instead of putting your goals on the back burner, read on. We asked financial experts how you can make a plan to get you where you need to go by this time next year.
Small steps = big results
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, achieving financial goals of any kind might seem out of the question. But saving a little here and there will bring you closer to your goal. “While some goals may seem unattainable, small steps in saving, especially in the long run, can lead to a whole world of difference,” said Zach Pelka, co-founder of Paytronage, a new online marketplace for income-share agreements.
Here’s a no-brainer: Drop your pocket change in a jar as you enter the house each day, or save your spare change digitally with a service like Acorns, which Pelka prefers. Acorns rounds up purchases made on your debit or credit cards to the nearest dollar and invests those funds into a managed account.
Try to cut expenses by at least 5%
If you have a firm grasp on how your money comes and goes, you can take steps toward efficient savings practices.
Neil St. Clair, President & COO of Karma Network, a financial media platform, suggests reviewing your bank and credit card statements, and categorizing your expenditures just like a business would. Some financial institutions, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, offer these tools online for their customers free of charge.
“Set a goal of reducing expenses across any discretionary categories (e.g. restaurant dining) by an achievable figure month over month – say, five percent. Then, take that five percent and put it aside in a rainy day savings account,” he said.
Save half of any windfall
Expecting a raise this year? It’s easy to get excited about that fatter paycheck and start living high on the hog. Instead, commit to saving half of your raise. Yes, half. “If you find yourself with a $500-a-month raise, it’s okay to spend $250, as long as you save the other $250,” said Nick Holeman, a certified financial planner at Betterment, an online financial advisory. “The same goes for your bonus.” Use this method, and you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor not just now but far into the future.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
It’s important to dutifully pay your bills each month, but periodically, you should check in with your service providers to make sure you are on the best plan and getting the best deal. “Your car insurance, home insurance and cable bill are just three of your monthly bills that you can reduce by calling up your service provider and asking for discounts, taking off features or increasing your insurance deductibles,” said Jamila Souffrant, certified financial educator at Journey to Launch. Souffrant suggests allocating any money you’ve saved toward your financial goals.
Go old school
Vacations can cost a fortune. According to a recent MagnifyMoney nationwide poll, the average American spent close to $3,000 on their 2017 summer vacation. Rather than sink into debt for your vacation, Leanne Jacobs, author of “Beautiful Money: The 4-Week Total Wealth Makeover,” suggests that you go “old-school” like her husband does. Every week, he puts 10-25% of his income in a cardboard artist’s tube, which you can find at your local dollar store.
“There is something powerful about physically touching your money and the active process of putting it in a savings tube. I used to laugh at him until he fully funded a Disney trip for five. I am now a believer,” she said. Whether you use a tube, a can or stuff the money under your mattress, this is a simple way to sock money away.
Those of us who are carrying credit-card debt month to month owe just over $4,000 on average. Because the interest alone keeps you from reaching your financial goals, moving that debt to a lower interest loan can be a smart move. “When managing your finances, it’s important not to add to any potential debt that you may already have,” said Andrea Woroch, a consumer-finance expert working with Marcus by Goldman Sachs. “As a way to save on credit-card interest, consumers should explore debt-consolidation options, such as a personal loan.”
Make saving work for you
It’s exciting to watch your savings account grow, but is that money doing anything for you? “Even if you are saving regularly, you can still be hurting your savings plan if you allow your money to sit idly in your account,” said Holeman. If you have not done so already, move your funds into an interest-bearing account at your bank or look into high-yield online savings accounts.
Become BFFs with your expenses
If dealing with money is stressful, you might be tempted to turn your back on it for a while, but Shannah Compton Game, certified financial planner and host of the “Millennial Money” podcast, recommends the opposite approach.
“The key to knocking your savings goals out of the park by 2019 is to become BFFs with your expenses, tracking every single cent that leaves your account,” she said. Rather than looking at it as a chore, think of it as a way to empower yourself to find savings in unlikely places every single day. “When you hit another savings milestone, give yourself permission to celebrate with a little reward (within reason) to keep yourself motivated.
Fun & games
Saving does not seem like fun. But in St. Clair’s experience, it can be. He and his wife regularly challenge each other to plan a date night in New York City for under $100. “We also look at how much we typically spend on a date night in New York and then put the difference aside in our savings account,” he said. “Do this several times a year, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it can compound.”
Rise and shine
Making small tweaks to your lifestyle can help you achieve your savings goals. For example, Souffrant suggests waking up a little earlier in the mornings, which allows you to have enough time to prepare breakfast or lunch, which then saves you from having to buy food at work or on the go.
Make saving automatic
You’re more likely to reach your savings goals if you automate saving. “It’s possible to make saving effortless by setting up auto-deposit so that the money goes directly into your savings or investment funds when you get paid,” said Holeman. Talk to HR to learn about what direct deposit services are available to you. If your employer offers matching, make sure you are contributing at a level that guarantees the highest match being offered.
Woroch suggests reviewing your spending each month and looking for ways to cut back by doing things like negotiating bills, comparison shopping, applying coupons and buying used instead of new. “Any time you save money when shopping, dining out, traveling, etc., transfer those savings into a separate account,” she said.
So, whether you’re intrigued by the 5% plan or like the idea of making savings a game, try saving this year. Life is unpredictable and you want to be ready to take on whatever it sends your way!
This article was written by Trae Bodge, an accomplished lifestyle journalist and TV commentator who specializes in smart shopping, beauty, tech, apps, toys and gift guides.
We live in a culture of instant gratification. We want what we want, when we want it—and that’s almost always right this second. This applies to everything from travel (it used to take months to cross the country in covered wagons, now we complain if our flight’s delayed an hour) to food (think Minute Rice and drive-through windows). But what happens when we apply this need for speed to our life dreams? More often than not, they don’t come true. Here are three things to keep in mind that will help you focus on your dream instead of the clock:
If you don’t start, you’ll never finish. Some people are so incapacitated by how long or difficult the path is to a dream that they never take any action toward achieving it. Picture yourself in your car, parked in the driveway. You have a destination in mind, but you never turn the key in the ignition or put the car into gear, let alone hit the gas. Where do you think you’ll be an hour, a day, a month, a year, 10 years later? Right there parked in that driveway, that’s where!
There’s no time limit. You know why people say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day?” Because it wasn’t. It’s nearly impossible to accomplish something big in a small amount of time. But that’s okay. The slowest runner still crosses the finish line as long as she keeps moving. Last week I told you about my life list of 40 goals I wanted to achieve before I turned 40. You may recall that I didn’t finish until I was 42. In the end it didn’t matter how long it took me to do those things, the important thing was that I did them. The fact that it took longer than I originally planned didn’t make my experiences any less meaningful.
Break it down. If you still have a tough time staying motivated for the long haul, try setting short-term goals that can be achieved quickly. Think of them as mile posts that you tick off as you’re running a marathon. For example, if your dream is to visit Paris but your reality is that you’ll have to save for three years in order to make the trip, use the time to learn conversational French, plan a French-themed party, and pick up a French cookbook and teach yourself how to make coq au vin. These smaller successes will give you a taste of the long-term goal and motivate you to stay the course.
This article was written by Susan Campbell Cross, a lifestyle expert, author, and on-air personality.
Robert Pozen is a very productive person: An MIT Sloan senior lecturer, he served as the former president of Fidelity Investments, executive chairman of MFS Investment Management, and as an associate general counsel of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. His latest book is “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours,” and he teaches the MIT Sloan executive education course Maximizing Your Personal Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive.
Pozen shared productivity tips in a Jan. 16 webinar moderated by MIT Sloan associate dean of executive education Peter Hirst, part of the Innovation@Work series.
“I see so many people struggling with their daily routine. This is the application of systemized common sense,” Pozen said.
Here’s what he had to say:
Measure productivity in results, not hours
Hours are a traditional way of tracking employee productivity, said Pozen, but this is outdated. Instead, think about performance-based productivity.
“Hours aren’t a good proxy for what we produce,” he said. “I’ve asked journalists: ‘Have you ever spent three weeks on an article that wasn’t good? And have you spent three days on one that was really great? What was the more productive use of your time?’”
Rank your goals and prioritize your time
Rank your key goals for the following week and the following year. “So few people do this, and it’s so important,” he said.
Divide them into supply and demand. On the supply side: Do your goals reflect what you like and what you’re best at? What’s the purpose behind each activity and goal? On the demand side: How much do your goals take into account your organization’s needs?
Don’t sweat the small stuff
“We have so much small stuff that overwhelms us, and we wind up using our time on it, like email. Most of us look at email every three to five minutes. Instead, look every hour or two, and when you do look, look only at subject matter and sender,” he said.
Pozen uses the “OHIO” technique. The “Only Handle It Once” method means that when you do read an email, decide whether it warrants a response. If so, reply immediately. But 80 percent of emails don’t require a reply, he said.
If you’re stuck with an essential but menial task you just can’t complete, don’t procrastinate.
“Break it into a few easy pieces,” he said. “Start with the easiest one. Once you get started and can do a piece, you’ll feel good enough to get on to the next one.”
For high-priority projects: Start at the end, not the beginning
Don’t wait until the end of a project to write conclusions, Pozen cautioned. Instead, do one to two days of research and formulate tentative conclusions. Perform a “mid-flight” check to revise, then draw final conclusions.
“Most people spend six or seven weeks gathering data, speaking to people, and then in the last week or two they spend time trying to synthesize and come up with the key answers. That’s an inefficient way to handle research projects,” he said. “If you wait, you will gather lots and lots of data that turned out to be irrelevant.”
Take time to think
Build time for contemplation into your daily schedule. Not every hour has to be scheduled.
“You need downtime to think — it’s part of most people’s jobs,” he said. This way you ensure your day is aligned with your goals instead of spent in meetings.
Former President Barack Obama would travel with a few blue suits, Pozen said, so he wouldn’t be bogged down with fashion choices. Take the variables out of your routine — what to wear, what to eat for breakfast — and make it predictable to reduce decision-making time.
“In the morning, try to be a boring person,” he said.
“Every day cannot be an emergency,” he said. There’s rarely a reason to stay at work beyond dinnertime. Get home at a reasonable hour and have dinner with your family. Unplug electronics. Don’t take phone calls or emails, he said.
“Stop at the door and go through your emails, so by the time you’re at dinner, you can focus [on your family] for two or three hours,” he said.
Often, people are afraid to leave early because other employees might judge them.
“Sometimes people are proud to have face time, and they think it makes them productive. Sometimes people are afraid to leave at 5:30 even if they’re done because they’re looked at strangely,” he said. “But those people might have been playing video games or in meetings all day.”
This article was written by Kara Baskin, a Boston-based journalist, editor, content strategist, and public speaker.