How to Boost Your Productivity with Serial Multi-tasking

Note: This is a guest post by Mary Jaksch of Good Life Zen.

Do you try to keep too many balls in the air? I do. I try to stuff at least two lives into one. I’ve tried various ways to accomplish this without stress, but it’s only now that I’ve found the answer: Serial Multi-tasking.

This is how I’ve attempted to cope in the past: I’ve tried to write an article, cook dinner, organise events on the phone, and dash off an urgent email to Zen students – all at the same time. But it doesn’t work for me. What happens is that my mind becomes very jumpy. I find it hard to concentrate and begin to feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Another way I have tried to cope is by focussing on one project at a stretch. For example, I have just completed writing my Ebook From Tragedy to Triumph: How to Win Trough a Life Crisis. In the last six months I poured most of my time into this one project, whilst neglecting the other areas of my life. What happened was that the deserted areas of my life started to wriggle and niggle under my skin and people around me started complaining. That too made me feel stressed.

Now I’ve found a new way to be productive on many fronts. I call my method Serial Multi-tasking. The goal of serial multi-tasking is to determine the five main strands of one’s life and continue to develop them during the course of each week for at least one hour at a time. In this way we can maintain momentum in the various strands of our life and ensure that no important task gets neglected.

Here are three important steps for implementing serial multi-tasking:

  • Keep a productivity log in order to make sure that no task gets left undone, and to see and celebrate progress.
  • Chart your progress in the productivity log in order to switch seamlessly between projects.
  • Celebrate your achievements at the end of each week

You can use serial multi-tasking in your job and apply it to the various strands of your work, or you can apply it to your life in general.

Here are 8 steps of using serial multi-tasking:

1. Buy a small ringbinder. This is your productivity log;

2. Make a list of the top five must-do areas of your job or life. If you are using serial multi-tasking to improve your life as a whole, make sure to include not only work and chores, but also other important strands of your life, such as exercise, or time with family or friends. Designate a section of your productivity log to each of these areas;

3. Make a rough plan of the week. A week has 168 hours in total and let’s say that you sleep for 7 hours each day. That leaves you with 119 hours of active life each week. The way you use these 119 hours determines the quality of your life. Assign a number of hours per week that you wish to spend on each of the five strands;

4. Plan to develop four of your five main life strands on each day. A chart will help you keep an overview. For example, my Monday chart looks like this:

Monday chart

Pin up your chart for each day on the wall or put it up on your desktop for quick reference. Keep a copy of your charts in your productivity log;

5. Dedicate at least one hour of uninterrupted time to each area for maximum productivity. This enables you to collect your mind, re-connect with your project, take some new steps and then make some notes about how to continue;

6. Eliminate distractions. Turn off the radio or TV. You might also like to turn off your phone during focussed project time. If that’s not possible, answer briefly and call back later;

7. As you complete each dedicated period of time, make notes in your productivity log. Detail what you just did, as well as what you plan to do next. This will enable you to transition seamlessly from one project to the next;

8. At the end of each week, spend time going through your productivity log. Focus on what you have achieved, not on what is still to be done. Choose the area where you have been most productive and write a note of congratulation to yourself.

If you follow this program of serial multi-tasking, you will find that you can achieve a lot more in your life. More importantly, it will spell an end to unpaid bills, unopened letters, half done projects, and a general sense of stress. Instead you will feel the satisfaction, pride, and pleasure that come from high productivity.

The author Mary Jaksch is a Zen master and psychotherapist. You can read her blog at http://goodlifezen.com

This article is part of June 2008 theme: Productivity

9 Comments

  1. Mary,

    This is a wonderful article. It resonates with me as I’ve often found myself in state of stress by putting all energy into one project. I’ll start using your ideas. Thanks for sharing your strategy. I’ve stumbled.

    Donald,

    This is wonderful blog. Needless to say, I’ve subscribed.
    Please visit my blog when time permits. 🙂

    Shilpan

  2. How long have you actually been using this system? It sounds almost utopian in its utility, but it seems too structured and has too much overhead time to actually be effective. Perhaps if I lived a life where I could map 9am to 9pm and actually maintain it without being detrimental to the exact things I’m trying to improve, this might be an effective system.

  3. Shilpan,
    I’ve visited your blog before and it’s very good. I’ve also subscribed yours 🙂

  4. I enjoy reading other’s systems and ideas on topics like productivity. I rarely if ever follow someone else’s system to the letter, but I usually find some great gems of wisdom and utility.

    More than one person has suggested to me that I actually block out time to work during the day, especially on my writing. I could see that clearly in Mary’s system. Planning is usually my downfall. I think the message has sunk in a bit deeper. Thanks!

  5. Mary,
    Great concept. It’s similar to what I normally do for scheduling – using time blocks dedicated to the major areas of my life – but maybe a bit more streamlined. Might have to tweak my style a bit.
    I’ve tried the one-focus, no multi-tasking approach before, too, and I just get kind of bored. I was driving the other day when I had this epiphany: We are multi-tasking creatures. I am pushing the accelerator (or brake), steering, changing the radio station, talking to my daughter in the back seat, and looking out the windshield at cars, road, etc., all at the same time. Many of the tasks we do require multi-tasking on some level. When I force myself to focus only one a single thing, I think I’m ignoring a skill I already have. Of course, you can go too far with the multi-tasking as well, like when I try to drive and talk on the cell phone and drink a large latte. Mmm. No good.

  6. […] may notice that recently there are two guest posts here. The first one is How to Boost Your Productivity with Serial Multi-tasking by Mary Jaksch and the second one is 7 Can’t-Miss Ways to Defeat the Procrastination Habit by […]

  7. Thanks for your ‘Guest appearance’ on this blog Mary Jaksch,

    An interesting post you have here, because to be hones I am somewhat confused about the question if I sould ‘focus’ or ‘multi-task’. I think it’s somewhere in the middle, and that the answer is ‘Both’.

    Because although you technically might be able to only use two fingers to pick something up, I am not inclined to simply cut of the three oher fingers. That is what entirely focussing feels like to me. On the other hand to totally Multi task drains my energy and doesn’t work for me either.

    Your post makes me think about how soap series on tv usually have several story lines and how those stories constantly switch from the one story to the other. I once wrote a post about writing success and about the question ‘What comes NEXT’ (see my post on my writing blogspot at: http://hpshappywriting.blogspot.com/2008/01/successful-writing.html) I think that in a similar way having multiple tasks to put (focussed) attention to has something to do keeping exited and motivated about things.

    Your post did give me some relief in believing that I am not totally out of control loosing focus because I have several specific ‘Blogspots’.

    All the Best,
    To your Productive Inspiration,
    HP

  8. Mary,

    Thanks for sharing your system for serial multi-tasking.

    Although I find that I do a combination of focusing on one thing and multitasking, anything that requires me to keep a log of what I’m doing dooms me to failure. I’m better at making the to-do list in front and checking things off as I go.

    I have found that making a to-do list with categories for personal, websites, blogs, etc. works best.

    Congratulations on discovering an ambitious plan.

  9. I really enjoy reading post articles and topics on multitasking, time management and productivity.

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