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Get More Done by Dividing Your Week into Project Days

Focus each day on a single project and your brain will be very happy indeed.

By
Stever Robbins,
March 20, 2017
Episode #447

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There’s a lot to do at Green Growing Things plant store. They recently acquired 1–800-GOT-GREEN, and the integration team is in full swing. IT Director and merger manager Melvin is running things, and he’s on top of … well, everything.

“Put the Audrey IIs right next to the lilacs. Venus fly traps? Put them in the break room for now. Eventually, they’ll … What do you mean the cash registers have incompatible payment systems? I’ll read up on both tonight and decide which … Hey!! Watch it! And where’s Fluffy? Has anyone seen Fluffy?”

It sounds like someone’s just a teensy weensy bit over his head. And if we listen carefully, part of the problem is that he’s simply trying to do too much at once. Let’s help him sort it out:

  1. He’s trying to make a plan to physically merge the inventories. And when the inventories contain carnivorous plants, that turns out to be especially important.
  2. He needs to understand what’s incompatible about the payment systems and figure out what to do about it. Money is the lifeblood of a company, and without it, the Audrey IIs won’t be long for this world.
  3. The plant store cat, Fluffy, needs to be located. Or, given the tufts of fur next to the Audrey II pens, perhaps replaced.

Multitasking Doesn’t Work

Here in the 21st century, we’re taught to deal with everything by multitasking, which has already been shown to cause your brain to melt. This is extremely bad news for zombies, since melted brains are not nearly as tasty as normal brains. You’ll appreciate how bad it’s getting when I tell you that some zombies are actually switching to steel cut oatmeal.

Usually by “multitasking,” we mean simultaneous split attention, which is a fancy way of saying, paying attention to two things at once. Like when you’re reading an article on your phone, responding to an incoming text message, watching Netflix, and writing an email message all at once. In this case, you’re trying to pay attention to several things at once.

But there’s another kind of multitasking, which is taking on too many different cognitive tasks at once. Each task is big enough that it requires real attention. And even though you’re only paying attention to one task at a time, you are switching so rapidly and randomly that your brain can’t get and hold the context you need.

Brains Need Focus

Your brain is a powerful and mysterious creature, capable of subtle, world-changing things. Kind of like Kim Kardashian. But it needs time. Solving big problems, like the lunch room fridge, require you to stick with he problem long enough that your brain can gather and connect all the relevant information. Then it needs time to ponder and daydream. Then and only then, after time spent doing hidden and mysterious things, will the answer appear, as if by magic.

Unfortunately, if you’re Melvin, switching back and forth between tasks so rapidly and randomly, you’ll have two problems: first, your brain will start mixing up which things belong to which problems. Is the leather harness and leash for Fluffy, or for the Audrey II? Or maybe for the new marketing director? It’s confusing!

Second, your brain never gets to stay in one mode long enough for those magical slow-cooking processes to work. Instead of finding a solution that’s as elegant as a nineteen course gourmet dinner paired with wine, you find a solution that’s more like microwaved nachos during a Superbowl Commercial. (Yay, Velveeta! When real cheese just won’t cut it!)

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