Clutterbust Your Digital Life

Spring is for reducing clutter

For me spring has always been about renewal, simplification, and organization.  After the long rainy days of winter, I feel a serious need to clear out the clutter in my house (and thereby my mind).  It’s much easier to be brutally honest about the stuff that I legitimately use and need and the stuff I don’t.  We have now been in our current house for almost three years.  I’ve got piles of STUFF that had been in storage at various parents’ houses or elsewhere because we were never in a house big enough for all of it.  Well, I can safely say that I’m not going to use most of this stuff I’ve held onto for “just in case”.

One area I also feel compelled to clear up and simplify is my digital life.  I keep reading more and more about how all our modern technologies lead to more and more distraction and fragmentation of attention–how those super productive people use technology to their advantage rather than being used by technology.  And it’s a philosophy I have to renew my commitment to each year.

I long ago decided to be someone who used my phone for my own convenience.  That means if you call and it’s not a good time for me to talk, I’m letting it go to voicemail.  I’ll call you back when it is convenient–which may or may not be that day (see also, Reasons You Should Leave A Message About What You Actually Want).  I regularly don’t answer texts quickly.  I’m quicker about email, just because I spend a lot of time online for my job, but even that has become more managed.  I removed all my email notifiers because they distracted me from whatever I was supposed to be doing (and were almost never Must Deal With This Right Now kind of important).  This lack of immediate response absolutely drives some people BONKERS because we’ve become a society where everybody is supposed to be instantly accessible.  But dude, that’s unrealistic and unhealthy.

The last week and a half, I’ve been out of my office, on the road for the Evil Day Job.  This has meant my inbox has reached Godzilla proportions and I am truly seeing exactly HOW MUCH stuff I just delete without even looking or the stuff that I don’t actually need or get anything out of other than a waste of time.  So I’ve been on an epic unsubscribe spree.  This has totally taken time.  You have to open the email, scroll to the bottom, FIND the unsubscribe link, open some other website, often click other settings and/or enter your email, then submit THAT.  And a lot of places say “oh it’ll be 2-3 weeks for this to be processed” [subtext: we hope you will forget to follow up and will keep taking our email].  But I’m being diligent.  Ultimately, it will take me less time to deal with my inbox once all these unsubscribes take effect.  And that not only saves me time but mental energy, which is absolutely a limited commodity.

So now I’m on the hunt for other means of retaking ownership of my digital life.

What kind of stuff have YOU done to clutterbust YOUR digital life?

Finding Time and Making Time

time

Image by Sean MacEntee

I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t wish for more hours in the day.  I regularly lust after a functional time turner.  We all struggle with finding time and making time where there often seems to be none.  Well, sadly, time turners don’t exist, and the teleportation technology that would save our commute is still a figment of our imagination.  But there are things we can do to scrounge up some extra minutes in our day.

It’s no secret that I like to cook–a fortunate thing given that the food allergies in our household necessitate that most everything be from scratch.  Sundays, for me, are usually spent largely in my kitchen, batch prepping stuff like homemade stock, cooking dried beans, making whatever I’m planning to eat for lunch for the week, baking GF/DF bread, and occasionally pulling together freezer meals (I keep wanting to do more of those).  Even with all that, I generally cook at least 2 meals a day, every single day.  Which, again, is fine, because I really enjoy cooking, and I find it to be good thinking time.  This weekend I happened to make up a batch of quinoa egg mufins, adapting this recipe to better suit my tastes and allergen needs.  I don’t normally make myself a breakfast ahead of time.  Scrambling eggs, making an omelet, or cooking up oatmeal or grits is just part of my morning routine.  I didn’t think it took much time–and in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it doesn’t.  But anyway, between having made my breakfast for the week already and rotating my morning alarms back 5 minutes, I’ve found myself with fifteen extra minutes in the mornings this week.

That doesn’t sound like much.  But it’s meant that I’ve been able to do a little bit of morning reading, which is both  a lovely way to start the day and has led me to feeling more chill as I get to work because I’m not feeling so rushed.  It’s got me thinking about what other things I could do to find an extra five minutes here or there.  This isn’t a new concept for me.  I long ago started planning my weekly menus to avoid the waffling time-waste of “What’s for dinner?”  I wear the same jewelry every day so that I don’t have to make that decision.  My makeup is fairly minimalist and takes 5 minutes.  I often make crock pot meals, which saves me food prep time that otherwise would eat into my post-work writing block (though this is less a thing once it gets hot, as a lot of them are soups or stuff that are very wintery).

The thing is, people have a limited amount of mental capacity each day, and from an efficiency standpoint, it makes sense to eliminate as many decisions as you can in order to conserve that capacity for more important projects.  Streamlining the things that you can makes a very big difference.  If you’re feeling strapped for time (and who isn’t?), I encourage you to think about this kind of thing–actively consider how you’re allocating your mental resources.  And share the things you’re doing (or want to try) in order to free up some time in YOUR life (because I could use some more inspiration in mine!).

Todoist: My Happy Place

It began innocently enough with a comment by my pal Suzan Butler last night about Todoist.

“What’s Todoist?” I asked.

“Oh it’s a list making program.  It helps me keep track of stuff.”

Well OF COURSE I had to go check it out.  And yeah, it is a list making program–on STEROIDS.

OMG.  I can make lists of stuff to do without due dates.  I can make lists of stuff to do WITH specific due dates.  I can make lists of stuff that are recurrent (like every weekday or every Monday).

I can organize by project (which means I can have categories for every book project, projects at evil day job, by class, house stuff, my weekly To Do list…

And, AND, it will SEND YOU A DAILY AGENDA.

And it’s got apps for, like, everything.  A desktop app for Windows and Mac.  Apps for Android and iOS.  Plugins for Chrome and Firefox.  Meaning I can sync across EVERYTHING and always be able to see what I need to get done.

And on TOP of that (as if that wasn’t awesome enough for you other psychotically organized souls like me), it will give you KARMA POINTS for getting crap done on time!  Whee!

This is EXACTLY what I want out of a calendar/ToDo program.

Oh, and I can integrate it with Evernote (meaning I can copy the note link for each chunk of my toolkit per project, and paste it into the list, and then I can click on it and it’ll take me straight to what I need to do).  AWESOME.

Excuse me, I have to go finish loading up my lists.

I Am Not An Addict

So yesterday I read Leo Babauta’s Zen To Done.  It’s got some good stuff in there, a system that I think most people would find beneficial at whatever level they managed to incorporate it into their lives.  I’m already a really efficient person, but this was a good reminder to reincorporate some stuff I fell OUT of doing this year (largely in the chaos following Daisy’s stroke and the move).  One thing he mentioned, mostly in passing, is only checking email a couple times a day.  In conjunction with my utter horror when Susan mentioned she’d finally got her inbox sorted down from some obscene number that had things going back to MAY, I started thinking about my own email habits.

I check email constantly throughout the day.  I have the Gmail Notifier and the moment that little icon turns blue (the visual equivalent of the old AOL “You’ve Got Mail!”), I have to check it.  Like HAVE TO.  It is a compulsion.  Even when I’m not expecting anything important.  Even when whatever is in there isn’t something that requires I act on it right then.  I have to clear that inbox.

Put in the framework of the ZTD system, I’m…wasting a lot of my time and distracting myself from other stuff with my email.  When I read his suggestion of only checking it twice a day and not having a notifier, I could practically feel my eye start to twitch.  My very vehement “NO WAY” visceral response made me want to see if I could do without it.  To prove that I am not an addict…

Because I think I kinda am.

Since I’m all about trying to be more efficient and finding hidden or wasted time, I am GIVING UP my email notifier.  Well, not the one I use for work email AT work because I really can’t for my job.  But the one for my personal email, both at home and on the work computer.   I’m declaring it in a public forum so I have a better chance of sticking to it.  I’ll check it when I’ve cleared tasks off my list.

And part of those tasks are now going to be some extra steps to my writing process.  ZTD advises that you get your big, important tasks done early in the day.  Well that just flat doesn’t happen for my writing as my block doesn’t usually happen until after 5.  But I want to try to kind of jump start the process earlier in the day, get my brain in gear so that I’m not spending half my writing block just trying to sort what I’m trying to do.  So, part of the process will be reading the existing part of the scene I’m working on (if I left off in the middle).  And also actually blocking out the scene–the order of action, what I want to convey, any seeds I need to plant–the nitty gritty of what happens.  So that when I sit down for my writing block, all I have to worry about is the prose.

This last was mentioned by Rachel Aaron in her post about how she went from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000 words a day.  I’d already adopted her suggestion of figuring out when your most productive time of day is, but it wasn’t all that helpful to me just because I only have the one specific time to write, except on weekends.  Something to hang on to in the future when I have more options than that.  The other point Aaron makes that I’ve always found salient (if not exactly something I’ve been good at practicing) is to figure out how to get excited about the scene.  If you’re excited, your reader will be excited, and likewise, if you’re bored, your reader probably will be to.  So find a way to get excited about every scene, and if you can’t, then maybe you shouldn’t keep that scene.

But…yeah, it’s all going to start by breaking free of the email addiction (and Twitter, and even (probably) Google Talk.  I’m not NEARLY as good at splitting attention as I used to be, and ZTD is all about NOT multitasking but actually tackling tasks single mindedly, one focus at a time.  I haven’t been doing that, and my productivity has suffered for it.  We’ll see how it goes.  Even if I only gain 100 or 200 more words a day, that adds up over the course of a year.

Efficiency 101: Blitz The Fridge

Okay you’re probably wondering what the heck your refrigerator has to do with efficiency.  If you could see mine, you wouldn’t be asking that question.  I can’t FIND or GET TO anything without taking five other things out.  This usually makes me cranky because I wind up dropping or spilling stuff and grousing about how I totally need a commercial size fridge and freezer (and I DO!  It’s on my list of stuff to get myself when I make it big someday–and by big, I mean like uber, really successful where I can afford to build the insanely expensive house with the ginormous kitchen it would take to HOUSE said commercial fridge and freezer).  But until that glorious day, I’m stuck with my 25 cubic feet side by side.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s better than the midget fridge we had before where even I, at 5’4″ tall, had to SQUAT to see what was in the fridge.  But most of the extra space is in depth, which makes it really hard to see what you have because stuff is all stacked and in front of each other.

Hubby to me:  Baby, do we have any sour cream?

Me: It’s under the leftover roast.

Hubby: …  Roast?

Me: Behind the…nevermind, I’ll come get it.

It is TIME FOR A CLEAN OUT.

Before and after pics are probably in order, and maybe I’ll tack them on tonight when I have time to actually tackle the fridge.  But for now I shall leave you with my all important steps to a cleaner, more organized fridge.

First things first, take everything out of the fridge.  I know, this induces mass chaos on your kitchen counters, tables, and possibly floors (be sure pets are out of the way), but you need a blank canvas.

Clean all the shelves and drawers.  It may depend on how bad they are as to whether you choose to just use some antibacterial spray cleaner or if you wanna actually pull them out and scrub in a sink of soapy water.  I guarantee you’ll find them grosser than you realized.

Start with your meat/cheese and veggie drawers.  Before you put anything back in there, check the expiration date.  If it’s past, chuck it.  If you discover you’ve got blue cheese you didn’t remember buying and find out that it used to be cheddar, chuck it.  If you find that there’s a cucumber you forgot about that’s turned into your kid’s 6th grade science project, chuck it.  If you have something with an expiration date drawing near, make a note of it on a notepad for your next week’s menu planning so that it doesn’t go to waste.

Troll through those leftovers.  Are you REALLY gonna eat them?  It’s a good general policy to put a date on them when they go into the fridge.  If you can’t remember how long they’ve been in there, it’s probably a good idea to toss them.  If it’s leftovers like grilled chicken or roast beef, and it’s still good, that’s another thing to make note of on your pad for that week’s menu planning.  No reason to let it go to waste if it can be used again.

Go through those condiments.  Now these are the usual offenders in everyone’s fridge where you wind up with stuff that expired and never got tossed.  Because there are lots of condiments we use only once in a while and forget about.  Check every bottle and jar.  Anything past it’s use by date, chuck it.  You’ll be amazed by how much room you suddenly have in the fridge door.

Drinks take up a HUGE amount of real estate in our fridge.   We’ve usually got milk, two flavors of Crystal Light, iced tea, half and half, coffee creamer…  And as we’re not going to suddenly NOT use this stuff, I tend toward buying containers that are long and narrow instead of round.  That way I can sort of put them across in a row and mostly still see what I’ve got.  If you’re a soda drinker (we’re mostly not), they make these nifty add on rack things that can hang BELOW a shelf to help save some fridge real estate.

In general, give some thought to the shape of your containers.  If you’ve got a side by side fridge, long and narrow are best.  If you’ve got an over and under or French door fridge that’s more wide than shallow, round or square might be better.

There are all kinds of fridge organizers that will give you more shelves between shelves, bins to corral certain types of smaller containers, just give some thought to how to best utilize the space you’ve got. 

When you can find what you’re looking for on the first try, it saves you TIME.

If you’re really super organized, you can keep a list of what food is in the fridge and continually update it so you know what you’re working with.  But even I am not THAT good.

What’re you waiting for?  Go clean that fridge!

Efficiency 101: Break It Up!

Did you know that when people get busy, exercise is usually the number one thing that slides?  I can’t remember where I read that, but it has a ring of truth to it.  I know that when I’m tired or frazzled, it’s usually the last thing I want to do.

I live in a world of perpetual frustration that I have the appetite of a 6’4″, 250 pound linebacker in the body of a 5’4″, medium frame woman who should weigh half that.  I like food.  I’m not apologetic about it.  It’s one of my chief pleasures in life.  But that also means that if I’m to indulge, I’ve gotta counteract it.  And that means exercise.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a two hour chunk every day to devote to exercise.  I’m not sure I have a two hour chunk to do ANYTHING, and that includes Evil Day Job stuff, where I am interrupted on a regular basis.  So if I’m to actually get my exercise in, I’ve got to fit it in wherever I can.

And that means breaking it up!

Anybody who happens to follow me on twitter and doesn’t know me may think I’m some kind of crazy health nut because I often work out two to four times a day.  It sounds INSANE.  Until you factor in the fact that most of those workouts are 15-30 minutes.  Which adds up to 1-2 hours of exercise a day.

Here’s how it works out:

Before work I get up in time to squeeze in 45 minutes of exercise.  That shakes out to usually 30 minutes of yoga and 15 minutes of boxing or 40 minutes of yoga on its own (depending on whether I’m in the mood for the quick routine or the full).

I live two miles from work, so I come home for lunch every day, and I try to squeeze in another 15-20 minutes of boxing.  It’s not a lot, but it’s another 100 calories burned.

If I’m feeling guilty or KNOW I’m gonna be over-indulging, then I might pop on the exercise bike for half an hour after work (though usually I won’t because I hate working out after work).

And depending on weather and schedule, one of my co-workers and I will take the 15 minutes other folks might use on a smoke break and use it for a walk break.  The loop around where we work is exactly a mile, so we’ll squeeze in 1 or 2 of those during the course of the day.

So, if I actually do it ALL, then I can usually manage to burn 450-500 calories a day, which means I can then eat as much as I actually want.  Plus there’s the nice little boost of having multiple spikes in metabolism over the course of the day.

So if you’re having a hard time making exercise a part of your lifestyle, remember that you don’t have to go whole-hog an hour at a stretch.  If you can only squeeze in a mile here, or ten minutes on the exercise bike there, or 5 sun salutations while cooking dinner, remember that every little bit adds up.  And small steps are absolutely better than no steps.

Efficiency 101: It’s Easier To Maintain Than Rebuild/Redo

Okay so maybe this is a little peripherally related to efficiency, but it’s on my mind this morning, so I’m gonna make it work.

Back in the spring, I picked up a copy of New U Yoga and Pilates for my Wii.

I know, you’re just waiting with baited breath for me to explain what the heck yoga has to do with efficiency.  I’m getting there.

So I picked up this game and I dove in whole hog, plowing through levels and getting my pretzel on.  This was back when my Goddess in Training (GIT) program originated, when I was doing a pretty darn good job of keeping to my health and fitness goals.  There are eight different programs of multiple levels on New U, so it was a constant challenge to my body, which is a great thing because I have a tendency to stick with a game until I beat it and my body gets used to it, then it’s no longer really effective as a workout.  I hadn’t hit that point with New U.

Then came June and the beginning of the Summer o’ Lousy Work Travel, which had me on the road, eating out, and ensconced in hotels with floorspace not actually big enough to pull off much in the way of a yoga routine.  But that was okay because I totally made use of the hotel gym and their exercise bike.  Then there was a crapton of AWESOME books released, so I kind of stuck to the exercise bike so I could read more and yoga fell by the wayside.  I kept meaning to get back to it, but there were always excuses for why I didn’t.  And finally about 2 months have passed with no yoga.

Well yesterday I decided that I was gonna get back into it.  On a rational level, I KNOW I feel better when I’m actively practicing and my brain works better (which, incidentally, helps with efficiency in other areas of my life).    I’d originally thought I’d wait until this morning since I like to start stuff on Mondays, but no…I thought I’d better try out the beginning of a new program as a means to figure out where I stand.  When I left off, I was at the Expert level on the Weight Loss Program, and even higher on a few others.  But yesterday I started at Flexibility: Novice.

Holy.  Crap.  I have lost ALL my endurance and most of my flexibility in the last two months.  I can box and bike and do many other things, but none of those use the same muscles in the same way as yoga, so I might as well have been doing NOTHING the last two months.  Which brings me to my point:

It is far easier to maintain than to rebuild or redo. 

If I had just come home from those work trips and done the yoga, just thrown myself back in whenever I WAS home, I’d have been able to maintain my gains in flexibility and endurance and probably kept up my weight loss instead of shooting back up five pounds (I blame the peanut butter ice cream among other things).  So now I get to essentially start over with that again.  Bleh.

The same thing applies to other areas in our lives.  Let’s talk about housework.  Say you’re starting with chaos in your house.  Laundry’s not done.  Floors are a wreck.  Stuff is everywhere.  It takes forever (or at least a way bigger chunk of your weekend than you’d like) to dig out.  But you do it.  Then how you deal with things over the next week makes a difference as to whether you’re gonna be pulling a repeat the following weekend.  If you make an effort every day for a few minutes to maintain the Big Clean (and this is something we’ve been striving–and largely failing–to to as our house has been on the market), then you suddenly have a bigger block of non-cleaning time over your weekend.  But if you just ignore it, letting everything pile up and the dust bunnies accumulate over the course of the week, then you’re right back where you’re started.  And probably a lot crankier about it.

I have become convinced that procrastination is hard wired into our DNA.  If we lose our momentum or our habits for doing something, every last one of us has a hard time getting back to it–whatever “it” may be.  We keep finding excuses and putting it off until we’ve made it exponentially worse on ourselves.  Depending on the “it”, we might not ever even get back to it.

So my challenge to you today is to pick something in your life, some habit or thing that you want to continue and establish a habit to MAINTAIN it rather than let it slack.  I promise you’ll feel better for it.

Efficiency 101: The Power of “No”

No.

It’s a little bitty word.  Just two letters.  But it has the power to set you free.

We are conditioned in our society that “No” is impolite.  We are supposed to agree to things because it’s rude not to.  It’s considered somehow wrong to set boundaries.

Well just like it’s healthy to set boundaries for small children, it’s healthy to set boundaries against others for ourselves. It’s considered selfish, and selfishness has been demonized in our society with puritanical roots.

Well I’m here to tell you that psychologically, extreme selfLESSness is just as damaging as extreme selfishness.  There is nothing wrong with saying “No.”  There is nothing wrong with taking our own needs into account first.  We so often over-extend ourselves because we are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or offending.  This does nothing but irritate us and put us in a position to be used by others (often the misuse is not intentional on the part of whoever is asking us whatever, but there’s still the potential).

So we’re going to practice.

“Can you head up the bake sale fund raiser committee?”

No.

“Can you organize the blankety blank?”

No.

Ring.  Ring.  Ring.  Will you answer the phone right now even though you’re cooking dinner?

No.

Beep.  Beep.  Will you deal with this text right this second, even though it’s disrespectful to the person you’re having supper with/the checker at the grocery store/the professor teaching your class/any other human being you ought to be paying attention to who is in your physical presence? (ok this is a serious pet peeve of mine)

NO.

Will you [insert time consuming task you really don’t want to do that will suck away your writing time]?

NO.

You don’t have to snarl it, you don’t have to be rude or ugly about it.  But you do have to develop the strength to say it.  Be firm in your convictions and guard that writing time (or your time for anything else, for that matter) jealously.

Efficiency 101: Is It A Value Add?

Our days are packed full of so many activities and tasks and obligations.  Since our planet shows no likelihood of suddenly morphing to a thirty-six hour day, and since most of us don’t get enough sleep to begin with and can’t cut out any more, in order to find more time for things, you have to take a look at all those activities and tasks and obligations and ask yourself this:

Am I getting something of value out of doing this?

Now there are things we do because we have to, even though we don’t want to.

  • Evil Day Job.  I’m not getting in any way emotionally or intellectually fulfilled by this, but I am getting a paycheck that enables me to pay my bills.  So there’s the value add.
  • I’m not what you’d call ecstatic about doing laundry every week, but I get the benefit of clean clothes.  Value add.
  • Menu-planning.  Sometimes my brain just doesn’t want to work on it, but it enables me to remember to use up the groceries I’ve bought before they spoil and keep my nutrition and calories under control.

But let’s talk about the things we do because we kinda sorta want to that may just be dragging us down.

  • Reading blogs.  Now as writers this is something we are encouraged to do.  Read and comment thoughtfully on other people’s blogs.  And no question, this CAN be a great thing to do.  My comments on Kristen Lamb’s blog is how my agent, the Magnificent Laurie McLean, found me.  But there’s a fine line between useful and time-suck.  I used to subscribe to a zillion (very technical number there) blogs.  My RSS feed reader was crazy full.  And eventually, it got to the point where I was barely skimming all these posts, and even ultimately would just mark all as read without even looking.  Because I was, for a while there, spending MORE THAN AN HOUR a day reading blogs.  And you know what I figured out?  For every diamond in the ruff, awesome post I read, there were 30 others that were rehashing the same old same old.  That was not a value add.  Ultimately I got rid of my feed reader, subscribed to about 5 friends’ blogs via email, and began to rely on my huge Twitter community to tell me about those diamond in the ruff posts.
  • Watching TV.  Now I am the first to admit that there are a lot of shows I adore and love.  Bones.  NCIS.  Royal Pains.  In Plain Sight.  Leverage.  These are part of my evening routine and the time I spend with hubs.  There are other shows I also love that he doesn’t really care about.  Know what?  I mostly don’t watch those.  They are, for the most part, just a reason to turn off my brain.  And while that’s a good thing to a point, usually they are distracting from other things I really need to be doing–like writing.
  • Magazines.  I have a lot of magazines.  Cooking magazines in particular.  Taste of Home.  Simple and Delicious.  Southern Living.  Cooking Light.  I love them because I love food and I’m always looking for new stuff to try.  These I can flip through pretty quickly, tagging the recipes I want to try.  But I used to have a bunch of other magazines.  The kind you actually read cover to cover.  I wound up letting all those subscriptions lapse because half the time they just wound up sitting around collecting dust.  They were not a value add for the time they took up.

Everybody has their own list of stuff that takes time.  PTA.  Being troop leader.  Some committee or other.  It’s time to go through your list of whatever it is and decide whether you’re really getting anything of value out of the activity.  If you’re not, axe it.

Efficiency 101: Know When To Multi-task

We are a multi-tasking society.  This whole concept of accomplishing multiple things at once is so pervasive in our culture that I think, to a point, we’ve almost come to revere it.  And in fact, I am a queen of multi-tasking with the kind of life I lead.  I think multi-tasking is great.  Except when it isn’t.

Lemme ‘splain.

There are some times when multi-tasking is great.  Listening to music or reading during a workout (big one for me).  Chatting with folks online while doing work on the computer.  Talking on the phone (hands free, of course) while sitting in gridlock traffic.  Working on another project while one is processing (when you do a lot of data analysis, this is a big one).

Multi-tasking works in these cases because one activity is relatively passive to the other.

When multi-tasking breaks down is when both activities require actual ATTENTION.  Because the brain is not designed for split attention.  This is why things like texting and driving don’t mix (and there have actually been studies that show that you are as much, if not more impaired texting while driving than over the legal limit of alcohol).

This is why I DESPISE the phone.  Because I have to stop everything I’m doing to talk.  I can’t do chores or cook or write because whoever is on the other end expects me to pay attention and not make a bunch of racket.  Whereas with online chatting and Twitter, I can reply when I have an iota of a brain cell to spare, talk to SEVERAL people at once, and STILL get all my stuff done and nobody knows (unless I tell them) or cares that I’m cooking dinner, doing dishes, or any of the other 8 million things I’m usually popping in and out to do in the background.  It is one of my great goals in life to get my mother on chat instead of the phone.

What does all this have to do with efficiency?  Well the take home message here is to know when to multi-task and know when to just stop and do one thing start to finish just to get it done.  Because focusing entirely on one thing usually means you can get that thing done faster and more efficiently than if you are trying to divide your brain among several attention-requiring tasks.

Think of it like this.  When you have an internet connection, you have a limited amount of bandwidth (this is your BRAIN in this analogy).  Now you can use that bandwidth to do all kinds of stuff: check email, chat, hang out on Twitter, shop at Amazon, stream a movie from Hulu, process data packets for SETI.  Ever notice how the more you’re doing online, the slower your internet connection seems to be?  It’s because you’re having to split that limited bandwidth over multiple activities.  If you’ve got some ginormous update to download, that’s when you typically quit everything else you’re trying to do in order to make it faster.  Your brain is the same way.

Prioritize your activities, make the most of your finite brainwidth, and you’ll get a lot more accomplished in the same span of time.