My #1 Time Management Tip: Don’t Multitask; Compartmentalize

What’s one of the biggest constraints that keeps us from doing the things we want to do? We don’t have the time. Here are some thoughts on how to manage that.

Remember when the internet was going to give us all the free time we could imagine?

Yeah, well. Not so much.

In this 27-minute episode, I talk about:

  • Why multitasking is the worst possible strategy when you’re short of time
  • Where to look for “time scraps” you can use to work on your Cool Thing
  • The activity that’s more restorative than TV, gaming, or getting into arguments on Facebook
  • What to focus on if you’re working on building a business (tiny or otherwise)
  • The most important thing I’ve done when I need to get traction
  • Creating “compartments” of focus
  • What to do when you drift away from the habits you’re working to create

The Show Notes

Sonia Simone: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.

I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.

Note: Links to extra resources are in the Show Notes!

If you caught last week’s podcast, I talked about the ideas I’m noodling with for the book I’m writing. The book is really about constructing your “Escape Pod” — the structures and patterns that will get you out of whatever’s not serving you today, and on to your next chapter.

One of the biggest deterrents for any of us is a lack of free time. Very few people have free time in any kind of significant quantity. And when we do, we do dopey things with it like play Nintendo or watch TV we don’t even really like or have fights on Facebook.

Don’t multitask

I’ve talked before about the irony of me talking about productivity, since I am not one of Nature’s Organized People. But that’s maybe part of why I can help you out — if it works for me, it’s very likely to work for you.

When your time is a significant constraint, when you’re at a point in your life when you don’t have a lot of free time — for most of this, this is most of the time — the worst thing you can do is to multitask, because it makes everything take longer.

This is backed up by approximately a trillion studies. We all think we can multitask, but we don’t realize how poor a job we’re doing on everything that’s being done that way. Incidentally, this very much applies to doing anything with your cell phone while you are driving your car. Short of listening to some music or your nav, please don’t do stuff with your phone while you’re driving. It’s dangerous, and even if it feels like you have good control, studies show that you do not.

While obviously you can multitask, since most of us do most of the time, it actually takes you longer to get all of your stuff done, and you don’t do a good job of it.

Find the scraps of time

If you’re not going to multitask and you want to try something different, the first thing to do is find your scraps of time.

In the U.S. by law you have to get breaks every X number of hours you’re working. In some jobs, this is hilariously not a thing. For example if you’re a medical resident, you’re cracking up right now. But for most of us, we get some defined breaks during the day.

Then there’s before we go to work, after we get home from work, etc.

One key marker to look for is: Do you spend any time watching TV, socializing on Facebook or another platform, or playing digital games? If so, think about whether you’re willing to take 30 minutes, or even 10-15 minutes, from those activities for another purpose.

A lot of times we are very unwilling to give up on those because they’re our relaxation time, our unwinding time. If your job is stressful and everything else is stressful, you want that time to relax.

What I would just suggest as a thing you could let ping around in your thinking is: Spending regular time every day working toward something larger, a goal that you care about a lot, is genuinely restorative in a way that TV, Facebook, and gaming are not.

This isn’t about being one of those people who fills every moment with something “worthy.” I’m not that person and I think you’re not either, otherwise I would annoy you and you’d be spending your time with other people who are good at being perfect.

It’s just about cultivating a small habit of working on something meaningful.

This is easier, by the way, if you use my values hack — one that I’ve talked about, certainly not one that I invented — to charge your battery. I’ll give you a link to that in the show notes.

Identify microtasks ahead of time

The other thing to know is that if you wait until your “little habit time” to figure out what you’re going to do with it, the time will evaporate. Deciding what to work on is work.

So let’s say you’re going to skip 15 minutes of TV every day and work on your thing instead. The first set of tasks you do in your 15 minutes is: Figure out what tasks you’re going to do in your 15 minutes.

Make a nice list you can find easily. Could be pen and a paper notebook, could be an Evernote item, could be a Google doc or just the to-do app on your phone. Just have a list of things to spend 15 minutes on.

Some possibilities are:

  • Writing blog posts
  • Figuring out how to get your site active
  • Outlining and recording podcasts — these will be separate days
  • Figuring out something complex like getting a payment method set up
  • Outreach to people you’d like to know better in your topic

9 times out of 10 for most of us, it’s either planning content or creating content. One of my favorite resources for this was a post Pamela Wilson wrote for Copyblogger that set out a content plan to produce one excellent piece of content per week.


Cultivate itty bitty habits

The reason we start with these itsy bitsy habit processes is that once you have even a small amount of movement, you’ve opened up the possibility of momentum.

If you work on, let’s say it’s a side business, 15 minutes a day, it will take a long time to get traction. But you’ll get traction faster than working on it zero hours a day, and you’ll also make much more progress than you would working on it an hour a week.

But one thing that happens is that it’s fun to make progress. It feels good, it’s empowering, it’s energizing. So those 15 minutes start to turn into 30. And then you realize there’s some other chunk of time you spend on a “relaxation” that you would rather put to your project.

Changing behavior is fundamentally psychologically scary. It shakes up our attachment to who we think we are. These little habits are a way to sneak up on the change, make progress, even if it’s very slow at first, and start to open up space for new possibilities.

Compartmentalizing your time

So half of my statement is “don’t multitask,” the other side of the same coin is that you compartmentalize your time and your focus.

That means, when you’re at your day job, you’re really there. You’re looking for ways to bring meaning to it, you’re looking for ways to do it as excellently as you can, or you’re looking for another job where you can do those things.

You’re fully present.

And you’re fully present when you come home, whether you have other people there or not. You’re fully present for your project. You’re fully present with your family, if you have family.

Each moment is like a compartment, and you try to focus fully on that compartment while you’re in it.

This is really not easy at all to do, but if you remind yourself all day every day to strive toward it, you get better at it.

This all by itself is very energizing, even if it’s imperfect. Because thinking about work when you’re with your family, and family when you’re at work, and your side project all of the time, is exhausting. It’s draining.

Link in the show notes — Power of Full Engagement

You really can do this

Finally, I want to let you know that you can actually do this.

Even if you’ve tried some of these before and petered out with it. That’s so normal. We’re talking about behavioral change, and that almost always takes a few tries.

But it rewards multiple tries. If you try some of these out, do well for two weeks, then drift off for a couple of weeks, that’s completely fine. Just come back to your little habits and start fresh. You can always start fresh.

This isn’t about being perfect and it’s not about superheroic levels of will power or energy. It’s about building and growing and taking small steps toward the things you want to create in your life.

Let me know about your journey! And thank you all!