Christmas is approaching like a freight train. Are you feeling jittery? Do you get a tight feeling under your diaphragm, does your heart race, do you feel like screaming, crying, or running away? What’s happening is the onset of panic. The seeming enormity of the undertaking triggers an immediate flight response that bypasses logical thought.
Many of my clients describe this feeling when talking about the expectations of the holidays: buying gifts, sending out cards, decorating the house, holiday parties, cooking and entertaining, the list goes on. The prospect seems so daunting that nothing happens at all.
I’m going to talk about a time management technique that will help you conquer the panic and accomplish what needs to get done.
Contrary to popular belief, humans can’t multi-task. What we think of as multi-tasking is really switching repeatedly between tasks. It’s inefficient because in order to switch we are constantly starting and stopping, wasting time re-starting the task we repeatedly return to.
Chunking is a technique to deal with information in small, homogenous, digestible units. It can be used to group small related things into larger chunks, or break large projects into smaller, actionable pieces.
What we want to create are self-contained periods of focused activity without distractions.
When faced with a large project, ask yourself, “What specific action do I need to take?” Assemble those actions into realistic steps that can be dealt with systematically. Focus on one task at a time before moving on to the next. Resist the urge to leave a task before completion.
Conversely, if you’re faced with a collection of unrelated, smaller tasks, like a variety of phone calls and RSVPs or online research and shopping, assemble them into chunks of related activity. Then focus 30 minutes on, say, making phone calls followed by a break, then a solid 30 minutes of internet work.
Finite jobs, like menu planning, bill paying, or writing your holiday letter are easy to handle as discrete chunks.
If you keep a master to-do list, think about which individual items can be grouped together to reach a specific outcome. Cluster those together and deal with them as a chunk.
To be effective, a chunk must have:
A natural and logical start and finish
Absolutely no interruptions
Breaks and rewards between chunks
There is no set duration of a time chunk, but anything from 10 to 30 minutes is effective. As you become more comfortable working this way, you can increase the number or size of the chunks during the day or throughout the week.
For example, you could set aside a half a day exclusively for baking, another half day for reading and research, or a full day for errands outside the house – making sure to plan a route ahead of time for the most efficient use of your time.
If you focus on only one type of activity in each chunk, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted, you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish.