The Myth of Multi-Tasking

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With the holidays fast approaching, we can all expect to be running more errands and having more demands on our time. Time is a priceless commodity at this time of year. We want to get everything done, and still have time for socializing and enjoying the spirit of the holidays with our families and friends. How are we supposed to get it all done in time for Christmas?

At first glance, it would seem that multi-tasking is the ideal solution. Multi-tasking allows us to complete two or more things at the same time. Who hasn’t talked on the phone while shopping for gifts online? It’s easy to assume that multi-tasking allows us to get more done in less time, thus giving us more time to spend enjoying the holidays. But that may not be the case, say researchers.

According to Dale Carnegie Training, people tend to multi-task in one of four different levels.

  1. Simultaneous multitasking. You accomplish tasks by doing two different activities at the same time. For example, entering data into a computer program while talking to your banker on the phone.
  2. Task switching. In this situation, tasks are completed consecutively rather than simultaneously. You’ll finish one task then move on to the next. For example, you finish preparing a presentation then check emails for messages.
  3. Time fillers. We’re all guilty of indulging our guilty pleasures by reading horoscopes, house hunting, reading celebrity gossip or updating our social media profiles. These activities aren’t usually work related, but may make us look busy when we’re not. People often confuse these time filling activities with multi-tasking, but clearly they do nothing to make us productive.
  4. Having lots of things to do. These individual tasks and chores are usually unrelated to each other and represent the busyness of life. For example, getting the car serviced, going for an eye exam or baking cookies for the kids’ school bake sale. Having a lot of things to do is not the same as doing them all at once, which is multitasking.

No matter how much you have to do or where you fall on the tasking scale, multi-tasking is not the answer. Studies show that multi-tasking is counterproductive. Trying to do so many things at the same time, say researchers, actually makes us less efficient. Our brains are simply not equipped for completing multiple tasks that require brain power.

So while it might be easy to fold laundry while watching TV, activities like writing a speech or negotiating a contract require more focused attention because they require more brain power.

Or as the old saying goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

So the next time you need to complete a project for your boss or are faced with a huge pile of paperwork, try focusing on one task at a time. Then turn off the TV, skip checking your Facebook feed and get to work. You may finish your work sooner than you think.

How Your Work Space Can Inspire Better Creative Work

What does your work space say about you? If someone were to walk into your office, cubicle or other area where you work, what would they see? Would they see stacks of papers and books littered around the room? Would the room appear dark and dreary? Does it drain your energy and make you feel sad?

More important, how do you feel when you work there? Does the space inspire you to do your best work? Do you feel creative and energized, or do you feel bored and depressed?

If your work area doesn’t inspire you to be productive, or doesn’t energize you to do your best work, it’s time to mix things up. Here are a few typical problem areas and how to fix them.

  • Cluttered space. Obviously, cluttered space isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have stacks of papers, books, magazines, folders and other junk lying around, how can you possibly think clearly? Take an hour or two to sort through your papers and file them away or toss, put the books back on their shelves and clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Dark, depressing environment. There’s nothing more discouraging that working in a dark, depressing environment. Lighten things up. Add a cool, modern lamp to your desk for better task lighting while you read or write. Paint the walls a bright, cheerful color, and keep the shades up during the day to let in natural sunlight.
  • Too many distractions. If you prefer a quiet place to work or study, the local coffee shop may not be your best bet. With music playing overhead and a steady rush of people coming in and out of the shop, it can prove too distracting. To create your own quiet space, preferably with a door that you can shut out interruptions. If you live with others, make it clear to them that you do not want to be disturbed. Set regular office hours too, and stick with them.
  • Much like the cluttered space, disorganization can also be distracting, causing you to feel unfocused and miss deadlines. You may have tossed out a lot of junk, but you still need to find a place for what’s left. I like to set up file folders and label them for each project I’m working on. I may have a file for magazine articles I want to read, another for receipts for my tax returns, and another for story ideas for my blog. Make sure you store the files where you can find them easily; in other words, don’t leave them on your desk or lying around your living room floor.
  • Mood-killer. If your work space is dark, depressing and doesn’t inspire you, make you feel comfortable or kills your spirit, it’s time for a change. A few changes to your décor can lift your spirits. Put a few (two or three at the most) photos of loved ones on your desk, a vase of fresh flowers or other colorful mementos from your travels to spice up your space. Open the windows and let in fresh air, pushing old, stagnant air out. Bring your pet to work with you, if it’s allowed. There’s something about having your favorite furry friend near you while you work that is soothing and comforting, inspiring you to focus on your project.
  • Too uncomfortable. Consider your seating. Where do you sit when you work? At a desk? Or do you lounge on your couch with a laptop in your lap? How and where you sit can impact your ability to concentrate and produce quality work. For example, if you sit at a desk, make sure your computer is at a comfortable eye level and you can type without pain or discomfort. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as you work, and the chair is at a comfortable height without hurting your back. Experts suggest getting up once an hour and walk around so your legs do not stiffen up from sitting for so long.

These are just a few ideas to help you create a more inviting work space that lifts your spirit and encourages you to produce your best creative work.

 

Is Lack of Sleep Hurting Your Creativity?

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing

How many hours of sleep do you typically get in one night? How much do you think you need to be at your best creatively?

Medical experts say most adults require at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night to function properly. Getting only five or six hours of quality sleep can affect us adversely.  You may be short-tempered and impatient which can put a strain on relationships, for example, and mentally you may not be as sharp, which can lead to potential mistakes. Physically, lack of sleep can affect your mood, cause weight gain, high blood pressure and other ailments.

We all lead busy lives, and as we take on more responsibilities, unfortunately, sleep becomes less of a priority.  How can you possibly think clearly, make critical decisions, remain calm under pressure and perform at your best without adequate sleep? The truth is, you don’t realize how valuable sleep is until you begin to lose it.

If your performance on the job can improve with better quality sleep, it makes sense that it can also sharpen your creativity.  If a lack of sleep is preventing you from producing your best creative work, here are a few tips to help you when sleep eludes you:

1. Keep a notebook by your bed. If your brain is racing with ideas or overthinking a problem, grab a notebook and pen and start writing them all down. Getting these ideas down on paper before sleep helps declutter your brain so you can sleep better.

2. Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed time. The lighting from your smart phone, TV and laptop can interfere with the chemicals in the brain that regulate sleep. Avoid watching TV or listening to music before bed time. (I find that this actually works.) It’s important to quiet the mind before sleep.

3. Give yourself 20 minutes to fall asleep. If after 20 minutes you can’t fall asleep, get up and read until you feel sleepy. Then try again.

4. Read before hitting the sack. This may seem counterintuitive if you’re reading an engrossing page-turner, but reading for a few minutes each night before bedtime can also help you relax. Try reading something dull and boring, like a science textbook.

5. Take a warm shower or bath. The warm water eases muscle tension and makes you sleepy.

6. Drink a glass of warm milk before heading off to bed. If you drink cow’s milk, try warming a mug of almond or cashew milk. You can also try chamomile tea, but it might make you go to the bathroom more often during the night, which only disrupts your sleep more. Wine and other alcoholic beverages might help you get to sleep, but you may have difficulty staying asleep.

7. Avoid sleeping pills. Some can be addictive, while others are ineffective. Other products on the market, like melatonin and Nyquil Zzzzs have had mixed results.

Whether you are an artist, writer or business owner, if you want to maximize your creativity and be more productive in your work, sleep is the most valuable commodity you’ll ever need.

Finding Your Most Productive Hours of the Day – and Making the Most of Them

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Have you ever gone to the zoo and observed the lions in their den? Or watch your cat, if you have one? Note how much they sleep during the day. Those lazy interludes are usually followed by short bursts of activity where they play, hunt for food, groom themselves and chase after their prey.

It may seem like they are lazy, for all the sleeping they do, but they are behaving according to their natural instincts. They have their own internal alarm clocks that dictate when it’s time to eat, when it’s time to hunt for food and when to sleep. The time when they are at rest is when they conserve energy for when they need it most later.

As animals of the human kind, we too have internal alarm clocks that go off when it’s time to eat, sleep, play and work. If we paid more attention to our internal clocks, could we too maximize our time for better productivity?

Recent studies find that for many high-level executives and top producing professionals, early morning hours may be the most productive hour of the day. By getting up at 4 a.m. or even 5 a.m., the theory goes, you can use the time to catch up on emails, read, exercise, study for a class, or write posts for your blog. At that hour of the day, it’s quiet and there are less distractions to interrupt the flow of work and creative thinking.

But just because you rise at 4 a.m. doesn’t mean it’s the most productive time of day for you. But for many of us, 4 am is just too early to start doing anything other than sleep, unless you are a cat scrounging around for its next meal. But I believe we all have a few hours each day in which we are at our most productive. Our energy levels reach peak levels and we feel recharged and ready to tackle our work for the day. But knowing which hours are the most productive for us may be tricky, and those hours are not the same for everyone.

A recent article in Fast Company outlines a few ways we can determine our peak performance hours.

1) Ask colleagues, friends and workmates to observe your work habits for a few days or a week. What do they notice? Some workers dive in to projects first thing in the morning, while others get cranky if they get a project handed to them at 4 p.m.

2) Monitor your own performance peaks. This may be difficult for some to do because it requires you to be mindful of your habits. But if you pay attention to your energy levels and note when they are at their peak and when they are at their lowest, you can quickly determine which hours may be most productive for you.

3) Track your time (and your feelings). Using a sheet of paper, jot down how you spent your day, from checking your social media to taking bathroom breaks. Try this for at least three days in a row to get a true picture of your work habits. Next to each activity, note how you felt as you were doing them. Did you feel yourself in a “zen” moment where you lost track of time, or were you ready to take a nap? Be honest with yourself. Especially pay attention to those zen periods, which proves that the work you were doing then and the time of day were aligned.

Once you figure out those productive hours, set aside those hours to focus on your toughest project, make your calls, and do you most creative problem-solving. By tapping into that productive time slot, you’ll likely get more work done with less hassle and better results.