#40BetterHours: The Art of Single Tasking | Beth's Blog

#40BetterHours: The Art of Single Tasking

Happy Healthy Nonprofit

As part of co-authoring my next book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, with Aliza Sherman, we both are still practicing the ideas in the book around self-care and well being at work.    We talk about self-care as a holistic experience that goes beyond Kale smoothies and massages, although those things are nice.    When we describe self-care in the book, it isn’t just a focus on physical health, but also something we call “technology wellness.”

This week, the Poynter Institute Katie Hawkins-Gaar and Ren LaForme joined forces to host a series called #40 Better Hours, a project to improve newsroom culture by looking at things that cause stress like workflow and communication and teaching journalist skills to combat information overload, part of a technology wellness routine.   While geared for journalists and newsrooms, there is a lot here that is useful for nonprofits – and many of the same topics we address in our book.

Today’s session was on information overload and single tasking.  It featured a ten minute video by journalist Manoush Zomorodi sharing some ideas and tips on new digital literacy skills of managing information overload and overwhelmed.    The challenge was to focus solely on listening to the video and not multi-task and reflect on the experience.

Here’s some things she mentioned that I thought were useful:

  • The new digital literacy is not finding the information, but being able to make choices when you had enough information flood your brain and take the time to synthesize
  • “Batch Concepts” – If you are working on five different stories, don’t jump around. Work on each story or topic until you are finished and go to the next.  This helps improve memory and synthesis.   The same can be said for working on different nonprofit projects – write one grant proposal at a time.
  • Write a to do list.  It helps you avoid information overload because you don’t have to waste time making decisions about to do (it is also helpful to have both morning and end of day routine around this)
  • Single tasking – Do one thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is a myth, it is switching quickly.  When you switch like that, you use brain cells and that is why we find our selves mentally exhausted before the end of the day.
  • Be serious about getting your down time – whether vacation or taking a break.  This how you not only replenish your energy, but also remain creative.
  • Develop your own guidelines about being “strategically unproductive” – that is taking a break from the information fire house. Understand what the signs are of information overload and simply stop.
  • She keeps sticky note on her computer that says, “Think about what you read.”

I have been disciplining myself – as much as possible – to single task and stay focused.  I have a regular morning routine when not traveling – to read one article, listen to a podcast or view a video related to the topics in my book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, and write about it – either on my blog or in a journal.   It is not always easy to take this time for yourself for reflection and learning when there are mounting items on your to do list, but I have found it helps reduce that awful feeling of overwhelmed.

What techniques do you use to keep focused and productive?

4 Responses

  1. Susan Kernes says:

    My practice is to eliminate distractions in my environment. To that end, I turn off the radio and other audible sources so that I have no competing sources to block my attention to the task at hand.

  2. Beth says:

    Susan, great strategy! I actually like to listen to classical music while focusing, but I turn off notifications and clear my desk so it isn’t distracting.

  3. Step away from the e-mail! Turn it off, shut it down, whatever I need to do to stop that distraction. Once I do that I can focus.

  4. Diane says:

    I find it easier to focus if I don’t have a full email Inbox or notes all over my desk of things I need to do. I try to move notes and emails into my Asana app so they aren’t cluttering things up anymore and I’m not worried about missing something. Sometimes it’s also good to go to a different location in the office like a conference room or empty office away from the computer and coworkers. I do this for things I really need to focus on.

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