Dave exposed the myth of multi-tasking (thanks Chris). I used to be proud of having 10 windows open on my computer, moving swiftly between them giving the illusion of getting a lot accomplished. Lately I’ve been trying to focus my energies, removing distractions whenever possible. Nathan’s post last week made me re-visit the importance of focus.
Most often, in our social-media-rich culture, the most difficult thing is being able to focus on one thing for more than a couple seconds at a time. I’ve got that problem too. But I’ve also got another ailment, that of “obsessive on-tasking.”
I’m the guy in the meeting who starts getting fidgety when someone starts drifting off the checklist. Afterall, we’ve got work to do! I grew up with a “work before play” mentality and often hold onto it with an iron grip. Over the past couple years I’ve had several co-workers (intentionally or unintentionally) try to teach me the value of taking breaks from work. They’ve enticed me with a 4 o’clock smoothie run or an invitation to kick the soccer ball around outside. I’ve slowly been learning that “on-task” doesn’t always equal “productive,” and that, in fact, creativity often flows best when it’s not forced.
As I reflect back, I realize that I should have learned that years ago from playing with Lego.
I loved Lego as a kid. I had a big tub of blocks and pieces, and would build and play endlessly. The only problem with a big tub of pieces, though, is finding the right ones. Inevitably, I would get stuck looking for that one piece to complete my creation, say a “2X6 blue” piece (remember all that Lego lingo?). I would dig and dig through that tub, eventually convincing myself that no such piece existed. But if I walked away from the tub for a moment, then returned, I could find the needed piece in a matter of seconds, and it had usually been right in front of me the whole time.
I’ve read about one executive who goes for a run each afternoon to let his mind rest and unravel problems. My dad, a real estate agent, has said that often his most productive moments happen when he gets out of the office and goes for coffee (since that’s where his clients, or prospective clients, are).
In Dan Pink’s talk at TED, he talks about how some workplace motivators focus our energies, but that narrowed focus is often harmful to creative processes in which objectivity and considering new solutions are necessary.
This week, when you reach the point of frustration with your work or a difficult challenge, take a break, then tackle it again with fresh eyes. You may find yourself being more creative and productive in the process.