January 25, 2012

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.


Stephan Uhrenbacher

Coach for entrepreneurs, founder, speaker and author

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