In my recent Ignite Seattle 12 talk, “5 Reasons Introverts Rock the Business World,” I called out different strengths that give introverts an edge. Of course, not all introverts possess all five, and some extroverts share them, so it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all characterization.
One of the strengths I chose to highlight was “depth over breadth.” Introverts generally have a special ability to stay focused for extended periods of time, as well as a preference to go deeper on a few things rather than stay shallow across many. It’s not unlike the way we form friendships; our circle of friends is usually small and intimate, and we have deep connections, whereas others have a wide range of acquaintances and more casual connections.
I generally thought this idea of depth over breadth held true for our ability to focus our time and energy. For some, maybe it does. I used to be able to keep my attention fixed on one activity for hours, such as writing, practicing my clarinet or reading a good book.
And then I became an entrepreneur.
With the ability to create my own schedule came the unprecedented capacity for wasting time. I don’t mean wasting time with things like Solitaire or watching re-runs of “The Office.” I mean multi-tasking, only partially finishing a project before jumping to the next thing, and allowing myself to spend too much time on a phone call, project or e-mail… or Facebook.
I know that a certain amount of distraction and randomness is always going to be with me. As someone who’s naturally curious, I follow fine threads to see where they go, and spend more time trying to connect distant but related dots. However, it’s also true that I could probably accomplish twice as much in half the time if I set an intention to stop multi-tasking and start focusing completely on whatever was in front of me.
When I shared my awareness with my business coach, he suggested I keep a work diary, detailing where my time was going. Great idea! I got a special notebook (of course!) and started my log. The first day was chaos. My time was so scattered, the log such a mess, I didn’t even know how to begin to record the raging randomness. Then the holidays came and I put the log away until after January 1.
The new year rang in with new intentions and new focus. I resumed my log and was starting to feel under control. So far, so good.
Then I conducted a podcast interview with Claudine Motto, a productivity coach based in Wellington, Florida. Among other things, she shared an online tool called Chrometa that tracks your computer usage. This I had to see!
After downloading the program, it started running in the background, tracking every click I made throughout the day. The first full day’s report came on January 12. It’s the first time I thought I was going to have a heart attack from looking at a spreadsheet.
This post’s featured image is just a snippet of that day’s report. It may be too small to read, so I’ll give you the punchline: over that particular 22-minute period, the longest I stayed active on any one thing was 2 minutes, 15 seconds. And I haven’t officially calculated it, but my guess is that the average time spent on each of the other activities was around 20 seconds.
That means that almost every 20 seconds, I was clicking to something else. Some of that happens naturally. For instance, as I write a blog post, I will click away to upload an image or check on a link I want to include.
Other clicks are inexplicable. Why would I be in the middle of updating a post then suddenly click away to MSNBC for 25 seconds then go to Facebook then go to e-mail?!?
I could go on and on about what my crazy day looked like, justify each and every click, and imagine how fast my coach will hit the ground when he faints upon seeing this mess. But that would just be wasting time.
Instead, I thought I’d offer a few ideas for staying focused, based on what Claudine shared in her podcast interview and my own experiences:
- I’ve heard that our ability to focus on a task diminishes greatly after 45 minutes. An effective way to structure the work day is to break it into 45-minute blocks, with a 15-minute break every hour. Get up, move away from the computer/phone/desk and do something completely different. It’s not time to mindlessly browse the web and see what’s hot on YouTube, Hulu or Yahoo; it’s time to stop whatever you’re doing – mid-sentence or mid-thought if necessary – and take a break.
- Use a digital timer. Claudine is a timer evangelist, preaching the power of setting a timer to get a realistic handle on where your time is going. Set it to count down as a way to stay committed to doing one thing at a time (for instance, set it for 45 minutes and during that time, do only one thing, such as finances or writing a blog post). Set it to count up if you want to see how long you’re really spending on Facebook (think it’s 10 minutes? Try 30!). Use the timer app on your smart phone, buy a digital timer or use one online like www.online-stopwatch.com.
- Set your priority list the night before. Create a reasonable (5 items, not 50) outline of tasks that you want to accomplish the next day, and include how long you estimate each will take… and then use your timer! One great idea came from Mike Michalowicz of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: for each item on your priority list, put a $ next to revenue-producing activities and a 🙂 next to the ones that would bring happiness to your customers or clients. Pretty simple, and great visual reinforcement of where it’s important to put your attention and WHY.
- Install Chrometa and see where your time is going. That first report will probably be a rude awakening (they show you a summary online, and you can export the full report to view the click-by-gory-click detail). Already on the second day of having it installed, I’d started to change my habits. Using the aforementioned timer, along with being mindful of how much I click away and allow distractions to pop up, I expect my report in a few weeks to be much less scary. (I used Twitter to a get an activation code from Chrometa.)
For more tips and insights into time and information management, it’s worth spending 37 minutes with me and Claudine on this week’s podcast. She also provided a fabulous resource list that will help speed up your quest for efficiency.
What’s your best productivity tip? Please share in the comments!
PS: This article is a fabulous read on how the internet is changing the way our brains work and affecting our attention span: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (July/Aug 2008 The Atlantic)… not that I’m blaming Google or anything…