How I’m ‘Single-Tasking’ and Getting Focused in 2016

How I’m ‘Single-Tasking’ and Getting Focused in 2016I’m so distracted. All the time.

Sound familiar? This is how I was feeling as I wrapped up 2015.

Maybe it’s the nature of my job in a client-facing agency role, where I might email or talk to 15 different clients about 15 different strategies in a single day. Maybe it’s because I’m the mom of a high-energy one-year-old whose own attention span switches every few seconds. Maybe it’s my tech obsession, which has me twitching if my iPhone isn’t in my direct line of vision.

But my brain felt…busy…and I needed to do some mental housekeeping. I started by doing a lot of reading (paper books!) over the holiday break. I felt like I was hearing more and more about people going analog — choosing flip phones over smartphones, or just being more conscious and intentional about how and when they use technology. (If you like podcasts, check out Note to Self — a show devoted to unwrapping these questions we all have about how modern technology is changing us. It’s my current favorite listen.)

Okay, so I’m not bringing back my flip phone any time soon, but it made me wonder: Can a digital marketer also be a digital detoxer? I think so. For me, it’s all about choosing intentional, healthy habits that create white space for me to think, get creative, solve problems and just … you know … rest. I’ve started by trying something incredibly basic that feels revolutionary: single-tasking. As in, the opposite of multitasking. I plan my day and do one task at a time. I don’t check email when I’m in the middle of writing or editing. I don’t take phone calls or respond to texts when I’m working on answering a client question. So far, it’s amazing.

Here’s what I’ve been reading that’s helped me. If your brain is feeling busy and distracted, I hope this helps you, too.

Why marketers should slow down.

I loved Heidi Cohen’s call to think slow in our businesses this year. She predicts:

“2016 will be a year of slow marketing. Like the Slow Food movement that’s in contrast to fast food, slow marketing is in contrast to growth hacking. It’s deliberate marketing to achieve long-term growth and profits.

While overnight success is great, it often happens after years of effort that’s hidden from public view. How many people admit to the hard work of trial and error?

Your business needs a strong foundation for long-term growth. Further, reliance on tactics that have been used over and over again by more and more people yields diminished returns. I’ve watched this happen time after time.”

Test your ability to focus with “single-tabbing.”

I watched this video from The Atlantic last summer, and it’s stuck with me. Health Editor James Hamblin introduces the idea of (ready for this?) “doing one thing.” He started “Tabless Thursdays,” when he only works in one tab at a time on his browser. He calls it “a vacation from distraction.” Could you do it for a full day?

Pay attention, or you won’t remember the things that matter.

I’ve been slogging through the book The Organized Mind for the past few weeks. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone with a casual interest in how the brain works (it’s pretty specific and sprawling), but author Daniel J. Levitin does have some good, science-based tips on how to declutter your brain. This review of the book from Unclutterer breaks down the book’s most useful tips.

For me, one of the most interesting revelations is that when you’re doing one thing but thinking about something else (like driving a well-known route but mulling over a problem from your workday, or coming in the door while answering your phone and dropping your keys), your brain doesn’t store memories about what you’re physically doing. So when you can’t remember how you got to your destination, or where you left your keys, there’s a reason. The takeaway for me: Focus on what you’re doing, if that’s the thing you want to remember. When I’m working, that means doing my best to single-task. When I’m playing with my daughter, that means staying away from the alluring notifications on my iPhone. (For other parents who are trying to find balance and pay attention — especially hard when your camera is also your phone — I found this article helpful).

I’d love to hear other marketers’ tips for getting focused and curing distraction-itis. Let me know how you’re recovering from your addiction to distraction on Twitter.

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