I Heard You The First Time or How To Save Time Everyday

If accurate multitasking were an Olympic sport, I’d have a closet full of USA warm-up suits and a room full of gold medals. I can multitask with the very best of them. I can simultaneously answer the phone, file a folder, check a calendar, order lunch and blow my nose with meticulous attention to detail. It’s a wonderful skill to have and to hone, but it is not to be overused. That’s the secret to really being an expert. If you live in a constant state of multitasking, you don’t have anything left in your bag of tricks when the s*** really hits the fan. The Olympic medals of multitasking are made and lost in knowing when to turn the skill on.

I save time every day by saving my multitasking for when it really counts. High level multitasking can only be maintained for short bursts of time. If you try to operate at that level for too long, you cannot, absolutely CANNOT maintain the accuracy and you wind up having to go back over tasks you’ve already done. In general, I work much faster and complete long to-do lists easier if I tackle one thing at a time. But it can be hard to quiet the voices of all the other tasks waiting to be completed. What invariably happens is that a voice in my head keeps yelling out all these other items that I should also be putting my attention towards. This voice will keep shouting until it feels it has been heard and acknowledged – which usually leads to too much multitasking. “I’ll just take a break from this project to start on that other one, so I don’t stress about starting it or worry about forgetting it.” You’ve totally said and done that – don’t even try to pretend you haven’t!

All that switching between projects and actions takes time. To stop that from happening, anytime I start a project that is going to take me more than ten minutes, I start a “I Heard You The First Time” list. I make sure to have a notepad or post-it next to me at all times and anytime that voice pops up, I instantly write down what it says, so it doesn’t have to keep repeating itself. Even if the item seems silly – clearly my brain thinks I need to hear it, so I write it down so it doesn’t feel the need to keep reminding me, thereby distracting me from my task at hand. In the course of writing this blog post, I have written down 3 items on my “I Heard You The First Time List” (in the interest of over-sharing: add taxi receipt to budget spreadsheet, remember to bring computer tomorrow and use up broccoli in fridge for dinner tonight). As soon as I wrote each one down, that voice got quiet and I was able to focus back on the task at hand. If I had stopped typing to find the receipt and open my Excel spreadsheet or to go to the kitchen to set the broccoli on the counter, I would have lost momentum. I probably would have found other things to do along the way as well. If I’m getting the broccoli out, I might as well wash the carrots, since I’m here. And there my blog post sits, half written and still looming out there as an unfinished project. By sticking to it and quieting those nagging voices I save myself time, as well as frazzled anxious nerves, on a daily basis. I think I hear the Star-Spangled Banner – better get to the podium, my medal is waiting!

Post authored by Erin Jerozal 

  1. First time reader/First time poster. Ah, yes. The postit is mightier than the ever determined short term memory. Great points, Erin! I need to do this more often. I wonder how long before ‘mental notes’ literally become neurological citations transferred directly from the human brain to your handy Android, Apple, or smart device of choice? Got any words of wisdom for trying to get through 200+ emails a day?

    • Hi ampicken, thanks for reading! I have high volume email too, and I find the best way to prohibit your inbox from running your life is to designate 3, 1 hour chunks during the day to check it – and that’s it! Sounds crazy, but if you are constantly being distracted by the flow of incoming mail you will never get anything done. So, pick your email hours, mine are 8-9AM, 12-1PM, 5-6PM and discipline yourself not to sneak a quick check in between. Set alarms for incoming mail from important people if you are concerned you will miss something urgent (although very little is truly urgent), and devote your non email hours to working on projects. Use your email hours to ONLY deal with your email. More on this in Timothy Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week, an amazing read !

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