About two weeks ago, I stumbled upon an article on my Facebook feed that caught my attention. The post on Facebook called out the some of the issues that arise from being too busy that affected social life, but I read more into the business side of it. As I read through the article, I looked at my desk at work and began to realize that ‘being busy’ might be an understatement. 4 Monitors, 2 different web browsers (Chrome and IE), a total of 13 distinct tabs open, 4-5 excel workbooks, Outlook, Access, and a few folders open. Wow, completely overwhelming when I actually tallied everything that was open and running on my computer. I told myself that I could handle it though, I had a lot of work and could multitask quite well. Then I read #3 on the list of 21 (I wont go through them all, but you should really read the article here: 21 Reasons Why You Should not be Proud of Being Busy)
#3 – When you’re busy, you confuse motion for progress.
Yep. That’s the one. Motion is what all of my open windows and programs amounted to, not progress. My To Do checklist wasn’t getting any smaller on a daily basis, but I FELT like I was getting so much accomplished. They further discussed under #3 the Pareto Principle – 80% of your results come from 20% of your time. I’m a stats guy, so I liked that. I’m a man, so I like being able to fix things. Easy, figure out HOW I spend my time, figure out WHAT to focus on to get the maximum results possible.
My mind works in strange ways, so I decided I would start logging my time during the work day. Not in an easy spreadsheet (which I do LOVE to create spreadsheets), but with an actual program that was designed for just such a purpose. I did some research on a couple different FREE options, and landed on a site called Toggl.com. It was easy to set up, intuitive, and after setting up some projects, I was off and running within a few minutes logging my time.
What I realized the first few days of logging time was that I was being horribly inefficient with my time. What I had seen as multitasking ended up being better described as ‘constant distractions.’ Reports that should have taken 10 minutes to do were taking twice as long, because with each distraction (e-mail notification, phone call, random thought that something needed completed) it took me a few minutes to catch myself back up on the report and begin moving forward again. Or clicking on a web browser with the intent to do X, but seeing a different window open I started to work on Y – completely forgetting that I needed to get X done!
As day three began, I had decided to take a new approach, and clean up my Toggl tracking page. I opened my e-mail, 1 excel workbook, 1 web browser (not counting the Toggl.com page) – and that was all. I turned off my e-mail pop-up notifications, turned off Lync instant messenger, and worked on one project at a time. At first I felt like I was working so slowly, but by the afternoon I realized that my inbox wasn’t overflowing with e-mails, I wasn’t falling behind in reporting, people weren’t yelling because I was responding to slowly…and I didn’t feel as stressed out. I opened and closed items as I need them, made time to read and respond to e-mail, and took the time to focus on people, not tasks lists. The motion that I had been doing previously had turned into progress, not because I was doing more, but because I was working with intention.