1. Identify your “why”. Any task is easier when you have a clear idea of why you are doing it. Finishing my family photo album “because it’s already May and I really should” just doesn’t do it for me. However, remembering the joy we all shared when we showed our kids the album I made last year gives me the push I need. Ask yourself: What value am I honouring by completing this task? How will doing this serve me? What impact is not doing it currently having?
2. Break it down. Very few tasks consist of a single action. Most of the time they can be broken down into a series of smaller, more manageable ones. Maybe you need to clear out and reorganise the kitchen. Even to a decluttering junkie like me, that’s a mammoth undertaking, but if you break it down into steps, it’s easier. Day one, you do a drawer. Day two, another drawer. Day three, you do the crockery cupboard. Then the pots and pans. Doing it bit by bit offers you a regular feeling of accomplishment without requiring you set aside an entire day to get it all done at once. This method also avoids what I call “culling fatigue” – that flagging feeling you get half-way through a big clear out where you lose interest and start making quick and easy instead of good stay/go/donate decisions.
3. Reward yourself! This is the best one. Just because you think you “should have” completed this job ages ago and you’re annoyed you procrastinated so long doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a treat for finally getting it done now. Whether your pat on the back is a run along the river once you tidy the tool shed, a cream cake after you file your taxes, or a home manicure after you’ve cleaned the car, make sure you celebrate and congratulate yourself on your victories and achievements – however small you may consider them.
1. First, separate tasks into categories – personal, professional, family, admin… Then list the tasks, adding a status against each one. I use a star to signify that I have to perform an action. When I am waiting on someone else to complete their part before I can do mine, I write something like “pending Sophie” next to it. Or I might write “email sent, chase on X date”. That way, I know that right now, I can only really attack the starred items. The rest are pending. This automatically makes my scope for action a little less large.
2. Add a red mark of some kind next to tasks that are particularly urgent or time sensitive. If your list is digital, move these to the top. Emergencies notwithstanding, I feel best when I get through at least one item from each list every day. That way I never feel like I’m neglecting work in favour of admin or letting family stuff slip as I tend to clients’ needs. I get a pleasant “keeping all the balls in the air” feeling.
3. Apply the 10-minute rule. If you have any tasks on your list that will take under 10 minutes, do those straight away. Your to-do list just got shorter – and this sense of achievement will motivate you to move on to some of the thornier items. The light feeling I get from crossing off a bunch of small nagging tasks makes it easier to focus on a bigger task that requires time and concentration.
When multi-tasking leads to half-hearting, it’s time to remember the old adage – less is more.
I have a confession to make: I am a cheater. A while back, I was spending some time with Robert Ludlum and – I don’t know what I was doing – I played around behind his back with… Charles Dickens. And I can’t say I was thinking about Bob the whole time. I really can’t. It wouldn’t be so bad, but I then cheated on Charlie with Alain de Botton. And then, to add insult to injury, I added Jasper Fforde and Dan Brown to my little literary… what, erm, six people – does that make a love hexagon? Yes, I had no fewer than five books on the go at one time.
Read me! Read me! Read me, now!
While I love skipping from tea with Pip and Miss Havisham to baddie-chasing with Jason Bourne, philosophising with Alain, feeding marshmallows to dodos with Thursday Next, and cracking codes with Robert Langdon, the effort of keeping up with all the characters and the plots was somewhat exhausting. I honestly don’t know how bigamists and love rats do it. I actually turned reading, one of the purest and simplest of pleasures, into a source of stress. The books became obligations and things to put on my ‘to do’ list. When I picked up one to read, I was faced with the feeling of “but I’ve got so much to get through, where do I start?”
The urge to double- or triple-up extends to most areas of my life (for my beloved, who will read this, I assure you I’m talking only about activities and not beloveds – of those I’ve only one). I have always been a rather enthusiastic multi-tasker. I like knowing that dinner’s in the oven as the washing machine is going, and I’m finishing off the ironing while also catching up on the latest shenanigans on Grey’s Anatomy. It makes me feel that time is being optimised. Equally, I file emails while on the phone at work; I make lists on the tube, I return phone calls while walking home from my yoga class. In all these situations, I feel like I’m making good use of what would otherwise be ‘dead time’.
Fidelity feels good!
But recently, I made the decision to streamline and simplify my life, and that involved reading just one book at a time. Novel, huh? Sorry, couldn’t resist that one. I forced myself to eschew all new tomes until I had finished one and, do you know what? – I loved it. I enjoyed the book I was reading so much more. I got through it faster (so I didn’t lose interest) and could remember the intricacies of the plot (so I didn’t spend time leafing back and trying to remember why the brass key was important and what family Lord Thingy belonged to). Most importantly, I rediscovered the joy of giving my full attention to just one thing and losing myself in it.
The experiment worked so well, I’m now extending it to other areas of my life. The bid to streamline, which started with unsubscribing from all those e-newsletters I regularly delete without reading and paring down my belongings, has turned into a resolution to do one thing at a time. If I’m on the phone, I’m on the phone. I’m not sorting the darks from the lights in the washing bin or straightening out my sock drawer. If I’m writing a report at work, I no longer stop every two minutes to read emails as soon as that nasty little blue envelope appears. The result? I actually enjoy each activity more, and I get things done faster and better. I’m also calmer, no longer frazzled by keeping an eye on several boiling pots, and – here’s the kicker – I find I have more time. The next step is obviously to cut back on the sheer number of things I try to do each day. That’ll be a challenge, but worthwhile, I suspect, since it turns out less really can be more.
Originally published on Running in Heels.