I don’t know about you, but Transition Time is the invisible time sucker in my day. It’s that time between projects/chores/tasks, when I’m switching gears.
I’m a person who thrives in The Zone. Or the Flow state. When I’m immersed in projects, I get a lot done, I’m happy and engaged, and afterward I feel great.
So I try to create an environment where Hitting the Zone is easy and accessible. But still, some days get chopped up into a multitude of smaller chores. Those days I don’t do as well, because I have a hard time switching gears. I developed bad habits of dilly-dallying in transition. Most of the times it’s just a few minutes, but it can spiral down to 30 minutes or even hours.
This is an area of my life I’m trying to improve currently, as the demands on my time is greater than ever. A legitimate break is one thing, distraction is quite another. So here are a few techniques I’m incorporating into my days.
1. Create, then Walk Through a List.
I spend a few minutes at the beginning of the day, looking over what’s on my table. I line them up in an order that makes sense, then envision going through them. Am I accurate in predicting how much time it takes to getting it done? Are there any assumptions or expectations that are unrealistic? Once I’m in the moment it’s hard for me to put my head above water and re-assess, so I try to get as much of that done before I get going checking off items on the list.
Once I’m going, I try to shut off the voice that says “is this really the way I should be doing? Maybe there’s a better way.” Self-critique of my own productivity can actually stifle it. Once I’m in the Check-Off mode, I just stay there, I’m not going to question the effectiveness.
2. Start with the Hardest/Stressful/Most Important Tasks.
When you tackle the hardest task first and get it done, then the elation/satisfaction of that accomplishment can spur you on to carry on and create more of that feeling. You’ll feel less motivated to engage in distractions that take you out of your day, as your day is going great!
3. Or, Book the Most Urgent/Important Tasks Last.
But here’s the flip side — if you’re a person who responds better to pressure, perhaps you can intentionally schedule the most immediate, must-do tasks at the end. So that you have to get to it after getting done other things. This approach works well if you also have issues with getting non-urgent, Second Quadrant (Covey-ism here) tasks. Tackle the Important but Not Urgent tasks first — then even when you’re done, you won’t have time to check-out for a few minutes because urgent chores are still ahead of you.
4. Schedule Actual Breaks and Make It Good.
Continuing with Covey-ism, if you keep running your car without refueling, you’ll run out of gas. Be reasonable in terms of how long you can stay productive in a single stretch, and schedule a quality break, where you really turn off and refuel.
5. Pack Them Tight.
Here’s another eustress technique — get ambitious with your list, pack them just a tad more than you think you can handle. Then challenge yourself to rise to the occasion. Small tasks can be strung together to form a big Zone this way, because you keep your eyes on the whole day and not just individual tasks.
6. Form Bigger Chunks.
This is rather obvious, but look for commonalities among items on your list and group them together. Perhaps they all need scissors, or take place in a single room? If you’re working on a computer, perhaps there are tasks that rely on the same set of software? Find themes and similarities and group them together.
7. Remove Distractions.
Finally, here’s one that’s been said many times before. Turn off e-mail notifications that bleep and pop up windows. Disconnect from internet all-together, if able. Shut off your phone, close the door, put music on (ones that aren’t so dramatic that it grabs your attention. I find that instrumental music, even dance music, works well) so that it helps you shut out distracting noise. I dim the light in my studio so that the computer screen is the only thing I can see.
I used to be the king of dilly-dallying, but I’m making great improvements with these techniques. If I can do it, so can you! Reduce the time between things, keep distractions at bay, so that you can come out at the end of the day feeling proud of how you spent your day.
As an aside, if you still have a problem with continuously getting distracted, being checked-out, just not being mindful — that’s a sign that says there are bigger issues you need to address. Perhaps your job/role isn’t right for you? Are you suffering from depression or anxiety? Those bigger issues can’t be fixed by some menial techniques. If that’s you, take a step back, and re-evaluate the bigger picture.