Friday, November 21, 2008

Time Management and the MYTH of Multi-Tasking: How To Write, Blog, Comment, Do Your Homework, Fulfill All Your Responsibilities, and find BALANCE

Okay, if I actually had this completely figured out, you'd probably see me in some infomercial, wearing a Hawaiian lei, living the life of a multi-gazillionaire because I figured out the SECRET - shhhh! (And I'd tell you, for only 18 payments of $39.99 a month... Kidding! Just kidding.)

I heard the amazing Lori Getz speak on Internet Safety recently, and she talked about how a lot of Teens complain about having 4 hours of homework a night. She told the audience about sitting down with a friend's teenager and looing at the computer screen that was up while this girl was "doing her homework." There were 9 different windows up - mostly IM, facebook, and other "social" connections - with only one window referencing the homework.

Lori offered the girl an experiment. She had her close every window on the computer but the homework one, turn off her cell phone, and just focus on doing her homework. Just to see how long it would take. Lori sat next to the Teen while she did it.

And guess what? Miraculously, the 4 hours of homework took 45 minutes. And then the girl was done.

Did she maybe not have as much homework as she had thought? Or was something else going on?

I had an epiphany about my time management this week, and it's all because of the wonderful "Comment Challenge" Mother Reader and I put out for the kidlitosphere (and ourselves) to accomplish. 100 comments in 21 days. Aim for 5 comments a day.

But... But... I don't sit at my computer on the weekends. So I start on Mondays needing to do 15 comments. That's too many, and it takes too long. But if I try to do it (and I have) I've used up a lot of the time I'm supposed to be writing. Then, like dominoes, my whole plan for the day falls down.

And a month ago, I had three books that I'd promised my author friends that I'd read and get back to them on by TODAY. I tried to make reading those books fit in, a little every day, but it kept getting pushed off.

See, I had this notion that I should take my available time in a given day, and divide it up according to the number of tasks I have (weighted slightly by the task's urgency or priority.) Kind of like slicing up a pizza.

But that's not really how I read. Or write. Or work. Or do anything.

When I sit down to read a book, I'm happiest if I can grab a chunk of time and read it cover-to-cover. And that's what I did, with almost my entire time on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. And I finished what I had to in less time (and with more enjoyment) than it would have taken to read it 20 minutes a day over 4 weeks.

Some things, like working out and blogging, I managed to do every day - they're the habits, and I'm still trying to add the habit of commenting more on a daily basis...

But the big projects just take chunks of time, and if I give it to them, I'm WAY more efficient.

So I'm trying to think of my available time to work BEYOND a given day, and think of it more like - in a given week, if I read more on days 1 and 2, I'll write more on days 3 and 4, and blog comment more on day 5. (Like 5 different pizzas, with different toppings and crusts for each one...)

I used to think that maybe life and the pursuit of doing all the things I'm trying to accomplish, professionally and personally, is not about having perfect balance in every moment, which would be like levitating 7 balls in the air, but more like sequential juggling, holding on to each ball just long enough to toss it successfully in a perfect arc before snatching the next one out of the air...

But now I'm thinking, maybe it's a different KIND of juggling. Maybe the balance I should really aspire to is more like "contact juggling." Maybe being really good at something looks more like this:

Maybe that Teenage girl only has 45 minutes of homework EVERY night, and she's so busy multi-tasking and IM-ing that it takes her 4 hours to get it done.

Maybe, just maybe, FOCUS is GENIUS!

(That'll be $39.99)*

Now, if I can just figure out how to feel like a writer on the days I don't write because I'm focusing on other tasks, I'll have figured out next month's installment of my Hawaiian infomercial!



*But of course, as an introductory offer, it's absolutely FREE for you, my loyal blog readers!


Terry Doherty said...

Thanks for the nudge. I am going to have to think some more about "contact juggling." PS - I'm glad I could avoid the s/h charges.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. Multi-tasking and actually getting something done? I'm one of those who gets distracted from the task I'm on by some other task I see, then I get distracted from task 2 by task 3. Eventually, I forget what started the whole thing and get very little done. I've had to stop myself from this pattern and complete something.

As for the homework - I lived with a boy (from age 8 - 11) and he had the many hours of homework with no distractions. We did homework together all evening with taking a break only for dinner, then it started again in the morning to try and compete it all. And he wasn't distracted (much). And they dare to put commercials on TV about getting out and playing to get exercise? Then stop giving out so damn much homework!

teacherninja said...

You got it, man. The secret revealed. Multitasking is evil. chunking stuff is better. As for the writing when you don't feel like it, I remember an interview with some indy actor and director and they were describing this painful day of shooting where the energy just wasn't there and they couldn't afford retakes so they thought they'd have to lose this important scene. But when they ran it back later on, it was fine. It worked and made the film. So just because you're not FEELING it that day doesn't mean you're not doing it.

If that makes any sense.


Hayden Thorne said...

Gosh, I envy anyone who can multi-task. I sure can't. I set aside "writing days," and those are sacred. Chores? Socializing? Nope. They'll have to wait another day or until I'm finished writing. (And I have to be satisfied with my output before I consider myself "able" to move on to other things)

When I sit down to read a book, I'm happiest if I can grab a chunk of time and read it cover-to-cover.

As much as I hail the advent of computers, I also think it a curse for dividing my attention between books and online stuff.

On the other hand, it's really me and not my abused laptop who ought to be smacked upside the head for allowing distractions to happen. I think I've grown too complacent with

Ooohh, look... shiny...

Kimberly/lectitans said...

I figured this one out in my first year of teaching: if I took a stack of papers home to grade, and put on some DVDs while I graded them, they took me hours and hours. If I stayed at school and worked straight through, I could knock it out in 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, I haven't really taken the lesson to heart: I still take papers home and grade them in front of the TV sometimes.

Unknown said...

Have I ever lived this one. Focus is key, that's for sure.

I have to admit, I've lost focus with my commenting. I've been doing it, I just have no idea how many. Sorry about that.

MotherReader said...

I'm not sure that I can make any kind of statement about time management after spending five minutes watching that video. It was pretty amazing though.

Striving for balance is key. Focus on the striving.

Anonymous said...

Focus helps, multitasking is hard and a time waster, most of the time. It's hard not to when you have kids. For me to focus I often have to set a timer for 15 minutes or so, otherwise I will find a thousand other things to do besides what it is I'm supposed to be doing.

John B. Kendrick said...

Multitasking is ok for me if done in blocks of time. I need to clear any distractions, even other important tasks from my mind so I can concentrate on the task at hand.

BTW, the premier issue of Productive! magazine has just been released, and has 17 great articles on productivity, along with an exclusive interview with productivity guru, David Allen. I've posted a link to the free premier November issue at

Anonymous said...

Ha,I completely empathize with d grl.
Hav a deadline 2moro and my ass is on fire if I don't finish d work. That is precisely why I am blog hopping.But, it does show me interesting blogs like urs:-

Sara said...

Thanks for using a small slice of your time pizza to comment at my blog and at the MR interview!

I'm one of those who works like a maniac for 16 hours and then thinks the next day will be the same, but nope. Nada. I've just kind of accepted it, and the only rule I have for myself is NOT to feel guilty when I'm either obsessively working or obsessively not.