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Tuesday Tip: Focus on One Thing at a Time

In his awesome book The Organized Mind, cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Levitin has quantified how overwhelmed by information the poor human brain is:

“In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986–the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day.”

How do we deal with this overwhelming amount of stuff and information? We multitask.

But multi-tasking is the enemy of focus. It stresses us out and prevents us from doing our most meaningful work. The human brain did not evolve to focus on many things at once; it evolved to focus on one thing at a time. And so the brain does not ever actually multitask. It can’t run multiple apps at any one time; it can only switch rapidly between tasks. This rapid switching is a giant energy drain for your brain.

When we just focus on one task at a time, we’re actually more productive in the long run, and we’re less exhausted at the end of the day. This is because multitasking exhausts more energy and time than single-tasking does.

The first and most important step to finding flow is to build yourself a fortress against interruption, so that you can single-task instead of multitask. If you can’t concentrate, you can’t be in your sweet spot. Period.

This week, find a way to single task — to just focus on one thing, without interruption.

Join the Discussion: What do you need to do so that you are able to really focus on one thing at a time?

unitask_CMYKPhoto courtesy of Mark Hunter.

To dramatically decrease overwhelm, you need to put an end to your multi-tasking ways. Need help?

Check out my latest eCourse: The Science of Finding Flow. If you pre-order this eCourse now, you’ll get a FREE hardcover copy of my book The Sweet Spot!

Click here to learn more or to enroll in The Science of Finding Flow!
 

Tuesday Tip: Choose not to complain

Leading a joyful life does not mean always trying to be happy, or pretending that we don’t sometimes feel annoyed, disappointed, irritated, or hassled. These days, I try not to fake happiness…ever.

At the same time, I’m not really one for complaining. When I was in my twenties, I complained nearly constantly. My best friend used to make bets with me that I couldn’t go even one month without complaining about the weather in Chicago. He was right — I couldn’t do it, even though that was the year that I’d landed a dream job and had every reason I needed NOT to complain constantly. But complaining was a bad habit that was easy, and in a weird way, rewarding. I could always find something to say by complaining about the weather (because in Chicago, it is always too hot or too cold to us Californians).

But complaining is a bad habit that threatens our health, happiness, and success. Consistent complainers get sick more often and don’t do as well in their jobs as their more positive counterparts — and their relationships tend to be shorter and less satisfying. Perhaps because they are so miserable to be around!

Complaining trains your brain to see something negative as the most relevant thing to be commented on, and this negative filter can lead to greater and greater pessimism. Complaining can make your brain feel like you are doing something about a problem, when in fact you aren’t taking action at all.

Want to get out of a complaining habit? I created a little action plan for Self.com here that you might be interested in. In addition, it isn’t too late to start my free 90-day coaching program which aims to help you get into a new habit that sticks.

Photo by Kevin Spencer via flickr.

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Tuesday Tip: Stop Trying to Find Balance

All our talk and worry about “work-life balance” is such a bunch of baloney.

I don’t mean to be depressing, but you will never find “balance” between your work and your personal life. That very idea hinges on an implicit belief that there is some perfect ratio between time spent on work (and work-like activities, like checking your email) and time spent on everything else (like sleeping, or eating your lunch away from your desk, or helping your kids with their homework).

Your work and your personal life do not amount to a zero-sum game, where more of one means you’re compromising the other. In fact, the quality of your work and your productivity — your ability to create something of value and meaning for yourself and for others–is utterly dependent on the quality of your personal life.

How happy you are profoundly influences how well you do your job. Reams of research shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that what we do outside of work thoroughly influences the energy, motivation, focus, creativity, persistence, insight, and raw intellectual power we bring to a given project or task at work.

The better your personal life is, the higher your potential to do great work.

I can hear the war cries from Silicon Valley and Wall Street now. “But no one in tech or at a start-up or who is brokering a billion dollar deal has a life!!! And THOSE people are rich and successful!!”  you protest.

Hah. While those professions are certainly rigged so that the [mostly male] people at the top take home more money, their success is deeply subjective. Are they wealthy in the things that matter to you? Brigid Shulte reminds us to “remember that the wolves of Wall Street bragging about those long hours at the office got us into a global financial crisis, and that 95 percent of startups fail.

Our sense that the most successful and productive people –“ideal workers”– put in an insane number of hours is just wrong. But what does the real “ideal worker” ACTUALLY look like?I’ve been pondering this question for five or six years now, and I’ve come to see that the real “ideal worker” has seven core qualities or skills. Read about them here, in this Medium post.

The search for the elusive ideal work-life balance is futile. You’re much better off putting effort into finding your flow. Need help? Check out my latest eCourse: The Science of Finding Your Flow (launching this Spring). If you order this eCourse now, you’ll get a FREE hardcover copy of my book The Sweet Spot. Click here to learn more about The Science of Finding Flow eCourse.

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Photo by Michal Koralewski.

Tuesday Tip: Make a “NOT-To-Do” list

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You have a to-do list. But do you have a not-to-do list?

I just listened to a fantastic conversation between Ron Friedman and Peter Bregman that had some surprising suggestions for managing our time better in 2016. (You can listen to it, too, here — it goes live at 2:00 PM EST today, part of a Peak Work Performance Summit that is free until the 15th). One of Bregman’s tips was to create a “not-to-do list.” Why?

According to Bregman, our success and happiness are based as much on what we choose NOT to do as what we choose to do. I wholeheartedly agree. What things in your life keep you from doing other things that you value more? Which of your behaviors tend to thwart your goals?

When we aren’t clear about what we want to do and what we don’t want to do, then the things we don’t want to do often end up distracting us from our higher priorities. For example, I want to spend more time hanging out with my kids after dinner and after they finish their homework. Ideally, I’ll spend 20 minutes with each of them one-on-one. But instead, I often get pulled into my email or back into my work, and poof! Just like that, the time is gone, and the opportunity missed. (Now that my daughter Fiona is away at school, I’m painfully aware of how fleeting and precious that time is.)

I’ve used Bregman’s “6 box” method to establish my priorities and categorize my to-do list for a while now. I wrote about this in The Sweet Spot, and you can learn more about it in his interview. But now in addition to categorizing my to-do items by each of my priorities–and then scheduling my time accordingly–I’m adding something. To each priority, I’m adding a not-to-do list. So under the priority labeled “Nurture my family and close relationships,” I’ve written: Don’t go back to work after dinner if the kids are at home.

By being explicit about what I’m NOT going to do–by actually writing these things down–I’m increasing the odds that I’ll accomplish my goals this year, and increasing the chances that I’ll spend my time on the things that matter most to me.

Photo by Jack.Schultz