The Power of Single-Tasking

For most of my entrepreneurial life, I was proud of being able to handle a multitude of things at the same time. And I did get a lot done. Over the past years, my multitasking has become more pronounced instead of less. Phone calls, Telcos, Blackberry, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, handling people, investors, press: All at the same time.

However, this came at a cost: During the past  years I realized that friends became increasingly annoyed that I was always 10 minutes late. My kids got used to addressing me three times in order to get my attention. In the rare events when I was winding down, it took me half a day or so to relax.

Today, I‘m making a conscious effort to really focus on the one thing I am doing. As I‘ve spent more than 30 years learning to do several things at the same time, I am now slowly unlearning that behavior.

The initial results of single-tasking are amazing:

People give me positive feedback about my presence.

I am able to concentrate better on the things I love doing.

My written communication has become more powerful.

It still requires effort, but here are a couple of the things I changed:

Working out
The gym used to be the most boring place for me. My time on the cardio equipment was spent thinking about business. I tried music to get me through the time needed. Today, I focus intensely on my movements, my breathing, my pulse. As a result, the intensity of my work outs increased dramatically.

No more push messages
I pull them emails when I need them. And I try to do them in larger chunks. This was probably the hardest thing to change after an 8 year infatuation with blackberry. I find it even harter to reduce twitter and facebook. But the quality of my real life has increased as I decrease my virtual life.

Books and music
I discovered that I can‘t even enjoy music at the same time as  reading. Yes I can do it, but I do neither enjoy the book or not the music. It puzzles me how people can do that. So now when I pick some music I really dive in to it. Close my eyes. Or the other way around with the ears…

No late calls
I have started to refuse taking calls after 7 pm. In the past I had investors who wanted to discuss strategy when they had time, around 11 pm. This resulted in me being preoccupied while spending time with the family. I just don‘t do that any more.

Quiet one on one meetings
Less meetings with people in my team. But longer ones. When I talk to people I try not to cover only the most urgent points, but touch on the overarching goals of their area and their ability to achieve those.

Taking time to think
My train commute between Hamburg and Berlin with its poor connectivity has taught me the beauty of spending uninterrupted time to think. I now am actively creating time to sit down, even if I‘m not on the train.

One thing has not changed though: My attention span is still very short. So if I‘m typing away in a meeting that means I‘m not focusing on that meeting, but on something else. Entirely. In general that is an indication that I feel my input is not required in that meeting and I resolve to be not in that meeting the next time.

10 comments

  1. This is a great reminder, Stephan. Sometimes we are just too caught up in and at work, that we forget the basic things.

    As a dad, my kids are the most important things in the world (as you sure also know it), and sometimes I forget to ask them what they’ve been doing in kindergarten and so. Love your picture there with your kid.

    -Andre

  2. I am a developer and found myself in a similar situation before a good while. When coming home from work, my mind was blown. I felt exhausted. Then I developed this: http://www.timeandbill.de and tracked, how long I spent for a task. The result was, I had just a few minutes. It means for a developer you start thinking about your code, d0 somthing else, go back to your code, your phone is ringing, start again with your code, and then your collegs ask you something. Once you answered, you take 2 minutes to relax with Twitter and finally start again with your code. Of course because you cannot think, you can’t finish your code and when the end of day comes near, you still are at the beginning. You get nervous and work under pressure. Everybody leaves the office, but you need some more hours to complete your work. When finally going home, you are pissed and exhausted. Well, at least it happened to me.

    First I started with Zen practice, then I quit my Job to develop Time&Bill. Both helped me to analyze my current situation. Meanwhile I have learned to code for 30 – 60 minutes in a row, without distractions. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but I still practice.

    Kodo Sawaki once said: one needs to sleep when tired, and to eat when hungry.

    Thanks for the great post!

  3. “… But the quality of my real life has increased dramatically as I decrease my virtual life.” I even have a t-Shirt … http://www.headlineshirts.net/reallife.html

    Very nice retrospective. Great post.

  4. TLDR.
    😉

    … actually I did and have to agree. Either something is worth your focus or it should be considered a distraction and avoided (or at least rescheduled).

    Easier said than done, of course. Especially if you end up treating people as a distraction when it’s just their topics that are the problem.

  5. I was initially reluctant to post something as personal as this, but it seems to have struck a chord with quite some people, given the limited reach of this blog and my twitter followers.

    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

  6. Sergej Soft

    It is specially important for young fathers to learn from your experience . Thanks for that Stephan.

  7. […] away – code. If you are so tired that you cannot program, sleep. Even known multitaskers like Stephan Uhrenbacher meanwhile have decided to work singlethreaded. I have made a similar experience to Stephan and finally I wrote Time & Bill, a time tracking […]

  8. […] away – code. If you are so tired that you cannot program, sleep. Even known multitaskers like Stephan Uhrenbacher meanwhile have decided to work singlethreaded. I have made a similar experience to Stephan and finally I wrote Time & Bill, a time tracking […]

  9. […] away – code. If you are so tired that you cannot program, sleep. Even known multitaskers like Stephan Uhrenbacher meanwhile have decided to work singlethreaded. I have made a similar experience to Stephan and finally I wrote Time & Bill, a time tracking […]

  10. […] away – code. If you are so tired that you cannot program, sleep. Even known multitaskers likeStephan Uhrenbacher meanwhile have decided to work singlethreaded. I have made a similar experience to Stephan and finally I wrote Time & Bill, a time tracking […]