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DARREN STEEVES: How Structure can keep your resilience battery charged

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Find your specific direction

Moving beyond the classic time management skills you have been taught can help keep your battery boosted so you can live a more flourishing life. 

Gary Keller, in his solid book, “The One Thing” puts it in these terms: instead of a to-do list, you need a success list – a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results. 

To-do lists tend to be long; success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions; the other aims you in a specific direction.  

We have the great gift of being able to do more than one thing at once. Some joke about not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but for humans in general, it is not a rare skill. The common term is “multitasking.” What many do not appreciate is that attention is a finite resource. Your ability to pay attention to and perform multiple tasks is dependent on many variables including your skill level, the complexity of the task, and the complexity of your environment. In fact, some researchers argue that true multitasking is a myth.   

We can easily switch our attention from working on a report to answering the most recent text, for example, but the switch comes at a cost and this cost is great. 

“The cost in terms of extra time from having to task-switch depends on how complex or simple the tasks are,” reports researcher Dr. David Meyer. “It can range from time increases of 25 per cent or less for simple tasks, to well over 100 per cent or more for very complicated tasks.” Even short periods of mental blocks caused by alternating tasks cost up to 40 per cent of one’s productivity, according to a study at the University of Michigan’s Brain Cognition and Action Laboratory. It can take you up to 15 minutes to return to being deeply absorbed in the task. You experience a mental blank or “post-refractory pause” as your thoughts drift between tasks.  

Plus, you get dumber. I was recently consulting in Florida and would hit the drive-thru in the morning for a tea, and noticed all five times I had to repeat the order, sometimes three times in one order. The University of London found that those who multitask during cognitive activities had an IQ drop – similar to if they’d pulled an all-nighter or smoked marijuana – averaging 10 points. Men who multitasked saw a drop of 15 points, communicating with the average mental faculties of an eight-year-old.    

One of the challenges with our phones is that it feels good. Humans get a burst of dopamine when receiving the ping from their phone and it can become addictive. Without it they can start to feel bored.   

So, what can you do?  

For starters, when you get a notification, don’t assume you need to react immediately. If you can’t turn off notifications and a notification comes in, assess whether it’s a “react-now” or a “react-later” task. If it’s a react-now task, get the deadline for your response. It takes practice to accurately gauge the urgency of tasks but coordinating your work by deadlines can help you manage your workload. Moreover, being honest about your priorities with yourself and with others is important. Your priorities should reflect your values and be productive to your Q-Life.   

If a task is a favour for somebody else, you may not want to offend them by saying no. Perhaps this person is important to you. In that case, it is still important to be honest about your priorities, whether you agree to the favour or not. Being clear with that person about if or when you can do something helps you establish boundaries and, ultimately, is more respectful of your and others’ time.  

When you are working on tasks, especially those of high priority, practise focusing on one thing at a time. Doing multiple things at once often results in distractions, stress, and mistakes. Instead, do one thing at a time until all five are done right the first time because, in the end, it will save you time and energy.  
Here is an exercise to build your R-battery. On the weekend, set aside 60 minutes to plan your week. Use an online calendar, a calendar you hang or old-school calendar book. Block your time based on what you need to do that week or month. If you do a month, check over the week and see if adjustments need to be made. Put in the most important parts first. Make sure you block time for your R-battery physical health charges like exercise, sleep and meal preparation.   

A life with structure may be stressful, but it is likely to also be predictable and safe. Humans crave structure. It is a blast to throw caution to the wind on a weekend but back to normal on Monday always feels good. It helps a person feel in control.  

Here is your second exercise: see if your day is values-driven. When we live our values in a structured environment, we give ourselves our best chance of living the Q-Life. In the reflection exercise below, list out a day with time blocks and the activity you did. Now give yourself a thumbs up or down based on your values, vision and purpose.  

For example: 

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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