Don’t flunk your day. “Chunk” it instead.
I’m a guy who is constantly “on the go.” In fact most mornings, no matter how early I get up, I’m usually brushing my teeth while the shower is running, doing a load of laundry, and checking emails. The funny thing is, these tasks are simple. They don’t require much time. But in reality, I tacked on an extra fifteen minutes to my morning routine. Though all of my A.M. to do list may have been completed, It would have been more efficient had I done one after the other instead of trying to do them all at the same time.
Back in 2010 at my former employer, I was given the task to make a presentation to my team on something I felt we all could learn from and help make us more proactive and productive employees. I spent many hours racking my brain – Googling different topics I think might be useful to my team. I stopped my manager and asked her opinion on what she thought of some of the topics I had researched. She looked at me flustered and said, “Hold on a minute, I’m trying to multi-task and get these things done.” I’m not sure whether it was divine intervention, or just pure coincidence, but a light went off. I entered “multi-task” into the Google search engine. Low and behold came countless articles and learning tutorials on how to structure your day and “prevent the event.” I stumbled upon a life-changing term I found laughable, yet thought provoking: “Chunking”
“Chunking,” describes how human memory utilization works. Instead of trying to focus on several tasks simultaneously, you set aside an allotted amount of time to focus on a single task. Multi-tasking does not work. In fact, some research shows multi-tasking is nearly impossible.
Earl Miller, a neuroscientist and professor at MIT states, “people can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. The brain is very good at deluding itself. We can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. What we do is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed. Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time, but you’re actually not. You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly. Think about writing an email, and talking on the phone at the same time. Those things are nearly impossible to do at the same time. You cannot focus on one while doing the other. That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks. They both involve communicating via speech, or the written word, and so there’s a lot of conflict between the two of them.”
With that said, how can we make our days more productive, and complete tasks more efficiently? CHUNK! Break your day into larger chunks instead of reacting to each task or unplanned event you have to add to your to do list. Pick a single task and set aside 30 minutes or however long you think it will take to complete. Ignore your phone. Don’t check email. Concentrate on the single task at hand. Unfortunately there will always be interruptions that can’t be avoided. Your boss may holler at you from across your office asking you to step in. Before you know it, there are five more things you have to add to your day. It’s out of your control, but moving to another assignment before finishing what you were working adds more non-productive time. Instead, start right back where you left off before moving onto something else. Chunking is a time saver, not a time waster, and ultimately helps you stay more focused and more productive. Not only are you focusing on a single task, but are able to do it better.
– Hunter Smith, CLICK IT