My Secret to Productivity? Hint: It’s Not Multitasking

My Secret to Productivity? Hint: It’s Not MultitaskingGiven the 24 extra hours we all get this Leap Year 2016, what’s the secret to getting the most out of our time? This year, my focus has been to accomplish more by doing less.

That might look like a typo or sound impossible, but it’s not. It’s called slowing down and doing one focused thing at a time.  And it works.

The Old Mindset

Between owning my own business that requires me to travel, and juggling the busy family schedule that comes with having three almost teenage daughters, I have a very intense to-do list. I love it, I really do, and multitasking used to be a point of pride. One of my favorite stories involves my days as a new mom and sports agent with high-profile clients. When Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz asked me what that sound was in the background of our phone call, that was me pumping breast milk while driving to the Master’s.

When my children got a little older, you’d have seen me negotiating contracts on my cellphone while playing hopscotch. If I wasn’t doing at least two things at a time, I was thinking about how many I could cram in.

A New Strategy

I started to see some problems with this game plan. Let me share a personal example of what began happening more and more. Or maybe I just started to notice it more.

I was at the grocery store, going through the list of what I needed to pick up, while I was talking to my mom on the phone. Back home, as my husband Fred was helping me unpack the groceries, several items were wrong or missing. He knew why. “Who were you on the phone with at the grocery store?” he asked.

Busted.

So much for productivity, I thought to myself as I headed back to the store.

Around this time, I was trying to defend my multitasking habits to a friend who is an expert about how people use energy for success, and she interrupted me.  “OK, Molly, try this,” she said, handing me a notecard.  “Write the alphabet while you give me directions from your house to your daughters’ school.”

I got past A, B, and C, but after that, my brain was scrambled. By D, I was done.

Recent Research

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review validated my experiences (and if you relate to what I am saying, we are not alone.) Many people are counting the cost of jumping from one thing to the next and back again. The human brain saps one-fifth of our energy, and uses more calories when it processes lots of new information, and even more fuel when you jump from subject to subject.

“People who organize their time in a way that allows them to focus are not only going to get more done, but they’ll be less tired and less neurochemically depleted after doing it,” said neuroscientist Daniel Levitin.

This Leap Year, I decided, would center on peak performance through practicing full engagement. Every day, I try to be intentional about unitasking. One thing at a time.

Holding the Center

I’m not there yet, but I sure feel more focused and fulfilled—and I’m getting more done because I don’t have as many redo’s. Not as many trips back to the store.

When I don’t split my energies or run too many programs at the same time in the computer known as my brain, I can put myself fully into one thing, knock it out and move on to my next task quicker. I’m clearer on how I use my time and how my actions relate to my goals.

My duties as a working parent haven’t gone away; I have just found a saner way for me to approach the juggle by having my eye on one ball at a time. I’m starting to understand what other people mean when they talk about the joy of doing one thing at a time.

I believe that over time, this new level of mindfulness will help me show up as my best self more often. Full engagement means being a better leader, better parent, better friend, better everything really.

Your Game Changer Takeaway 

As odd as it sounds, you can be more productive by giving up multitasking, which is unsustainable. If you want to be fully engaged—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually—you can’t do two things at once. And isn’t full engagement what most of us want, to be present for the people we love and the work that brings us meaning?

Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world.  Her e-learning courses spark both  personal growth for individuals and corporate development for organizations. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.