Singular or Shifting Focus?

As I’ve written about before I’ve made various changes in my daily productivity routine to help with time management and focus. Both in agency and freelance life, these changes have been largely positive, keeping me on task to get things done as efficiently as possible.

Most of those changes have been in service of finding a balance between focusing on one thing and focusing on everything.

You know what I’m talking about. You have 15 things on your to do list, all due at various times. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that each project will take six hours from start to finish. And they’re due on a staggered schedule, not all at once.

(Yes, this is hypothetical. The above never happens. I know. Let’s move on.)

So what’s the better approach?

  1. Chunk up the schedule so you get a little of everything done, spending more time on those projects due sooner but overall varying the day?
  2. Devote all your time and attention to one project until it’s done and only then move on to anything else?

There’s no tried and true reliable answer here. Your preference is going to be different than mine. Even my preference will be different from one day to the next. Sometimes it works best to just take on one project and focus on nothing else until it’s locked down. Other times I get the most done when I bounce my attention around a little bit, changing up the problem I’m working on.

I’ve found moments of serendipity happen in either scenario. I can be eyebrow-deep in a project and have a moment of inspiration that cracks a nut I’d been working on for a while in that same project or a totally different one. There have been times too when shifting over to another project actually opens up a solution to the one I was working on previously.

What’s important is that, no matter what approach is being taken, you not take yourself out of it. If you’ve committed to six hours on a single project to get it done and you have an insight related to something else, don’t take yourself out of the groove. Even if you’re mixing things up, don’t get distracted. Finish the two-hour sprint you’ve devoted to that project, otherwise you won’t come back to it.

This is why I keep a TextEdit document open on the side of my screen, to jot down random thoughts so they don’t get lost but also doesn’t necessitate taking the time to open the project itself.

What do you think? Which approach works best for you or, like me, does if vary from one day to the next? How have you adjusted your setup to capture random thoughts without distracting you from your primary goal?

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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