Multitasking isn’t just a productivity-killer, it’s a recipe for unfocused and fragmented work. Focusing on a single project for an extended period is a skill that requires cultivation. Much like a ray of sunshine through a magnifying glass, this mindset concentrates your time, attention and resources.
In a recent interview, Bob Schafer, head of research at brain-training company Lumos Labs said, “If you’re truly trying to do more than one thing, you’re actually going to take a hit at everything that you’re trying to do. You’re going to do each of those things slightly less productively, and the key thing here is a concept called switch cost. It costs you…time and energy to switch your attention from one [task] to the other”
You can develop an ability to focus by giving each work day a theme. Assigning one means concentrating solely on one key area of your work or business, for as long as possible, without switching to another area.
For example, a CEO takes her executive team on a off-site retreat to encourage creative thinking away for the daily demands of email, meetings and phone calls. In doing so, she concentrates the mental resources of her leadership team on a single agenda and not on daily business priorities.
A solo-preneuer spends their entire day interviewing customers because they want to prioritise customer research before they dive into creating their next information product. Similarly, the business writer who checks into a hotel to finish her book without distraction relies on the theme of creative work. She wants to concentrate her creative power on a single project.
How To Pick A Theme For Your Day
You don’t need to spend the entire day focused on one task. If you’re working for a company, focusing on only one task is probably impossible, because you have meetings to attend, calls to take, and other people’s priorities to juggle.
Instead, consider the key themes forming your work life. These might include creative work, business development, sales, customer outreach, administration, marketing, design, etc.
Next, identify which themes are most important to your and your business’s goals. Now, while planning your week, map a theme to each day. During a normal workday, spend two-to-three hours on tasks related to your chosen themes. If you can spend longer or even the entire day (like the CEO above at an offsite), that’s great. If not, adapt accordingly.
Your new level of focus should reduce the cognitive overload that comes from switching from one task to the next. You’re not spending half an hour reviewing a marketing campaign, an hour on interviewing potential hires and thirty minutes writing an article, all before you complain about feeling overwhelmed over lunch.
Instead, you’re spending Mondays on marketing, Tuesdays on hiring, Wednesdays on creative work, Thursdays on business development and Fridays on administrative tasks. You could even plot these themes in your calendar and hold yourself accountable by tracking how long you focus on each theme.
After you’re comfortable with the concept, extend it by considering your themes for the coming month, quarter or year. What big project do you want to focus on for the next 30, 60 or 90 days? Break that down into sub-themes that you will work on during a themed day.
Say you want to write a business book this quarter. Creative work represents a theme for the next three months, so break writing the book down into smaller themes like writing, research and editing.
Similarly, if you want to launch a new product this Autumn, pick smaller weekly and daily themes. On Tuesdays, review your business’s advertising campaigns. On Wednesdays, gather customer testimonials. On Thursdays, plan an email campaign. And so on.
Ultimately, a theme for each day should help you gain momentum on key business in a way that 30 minutes of fragmented work will never achieve.