Chunking versus multi-tasking

Chunking Versus Multi-tasking

Have you ever wrapped up a day and thought to yourself, “What did I do today?” Have you ever felt like you can’t accomplish anything during the day because of all of the interruptions? Did you ever wish you could clone yourself just to keep up?

If you’ve answered, “Yes!” to any of these questions, then this is for you.

I’ve been there, done that, and came home with the T-shirt more times than I care to admit. It even happened today. I’m not immune, but I do know better. Here’s what you need to know to put this to work for you.

What is Chunking?

Chunking is a term professionals use to describe how you and I group things when performing cognitive functions. For instance, look at these two number-strings:

  1. 5551230987
  2. (555) 123-0987

Most of us would choose option two, because it’s grouped in chunks of three or four numbers to help us remember the whole string of numbers. Much like this memory technique helps you remember a set of numbers, time-chunking can be similarly applied to help you more effectively manage your day.

In contrast, multi-tasking is rapid single-tasking. While this may initially sound attractive, the cost of switching back and forth between various tasks is your efficiency and effectiveness. In other words, it takes time for your brain to fully engage when switching back and forth between different types of tasks. You are not fully engaged in the task at hand, which causes your results to suffer.

Does this apply to me?

If you are a business or creative professional, student, teleworker, or even a stay-at-home mom chunking can benefit you:

  • Sales professionals: Lethal sales professionals set aside time for list-building, prospecting, appointments, and administrative work. They are disciplined about leveraging chunks of time to yield maximum benefit.
  • Creative professionals: The most successful artists, designers, and programmers fully understand that dedicated, deep-dive time is equally as important as client meetings.
  • Students: Whether they realize it or not, successful students know how to live in the moment and block out the many distractions of college life to focus on what’s important here and now. Chunking is as much about priority management as it is calendar management, and eager students are adept at creating guarded times to complete needed work.
  • Teleworkers: The every-increasing ranks of teleworkers are challenged to stay productive in the midst of remote meetings, the deluge of email, and the lure of just one more game of Candy Crush Saga. But smart teleworkers know that they are judged on their contribution, and effectively employ chunking to achieve victory.
  • Stay-at-home-moms: Arguably the most difficult job in the world, have been fed the line that being everything to everyone all the time is the way it works. However, savvy moms realized early on that scheduled naps, playtimes, and feeding are about the only way to maintain some level of sanity.

How can I implement this?

When it’s all said and done, it’s really about you making better choices. Let’s get started:

  1. Choose the task: Start by simply choosing one sizable task on which you’d like to make progress.
  2. Carve out time: How much time will it take you to either finish or achieve the next milestone of your task? Two hours? Four hours? A day?
  3. Calendar your choice: Now that you know what you want to finish, and about how much time the task will require, find a slot in your calendar and create a new event just like you would a meeting. If you don’t have a slot, either move out (to the next week) or make room (move appointments around).

Here’s how this looks for me:

  1. I have a large client report I need to review, edit, and pass on by Friday of next week.
  2. It’s going to take me 16 hours to complete what is needed.
  3. I can’t spare more than four hours at a time, so I carve out:
    • One four-hour block Friday of this week,
    • Two four-hour blocks Tuesday of next week,
    • One two-hour block Wednesday,
    • and another one-hour block on Thursday.

Better choices lead to better results.

Better choices lead to better results–It’s just that simple. But if you are like me, best intentions don’t help you get across the finish line. You start the day with a plan. By lunch you realize you are behind, and by evening you realize you need more time.

So I started focusing on blocking out times in my calendar to accommodate my individual work, my work with my team, and the various meetings throughout the week.

Before, I had only used my calendar to book meetings. This left my production time vulnerable to other things filling it in. What I found was that everything seemed to fill in my time for me. Everything else always became more interesting than what I needed to get done. Calls from colleagues, last minute requests, the jingles of a new email, or anything else that chirped, whistled, or blinked at me.

Flatly stated–all of the distractions endangered my ability to make better choices.

By regarding my “get stuff done” time as important as I did a meeting with my client, I improved productivity, avoided unnecessary stress, and shed the guilt of constantly running behind my own deadlines.

Don’t keep wasting time. Quit trying to juggle so many things at once and start chunking today.