I wasn’t worried about choosing three words for 2015. Over the five years I’ve practiced this annual tradition I’ve learned to trust my three words will appear. And they inevitably do.
This year sometime at the beginning of December, the thought entered my head that it would soon be time to choose my three words for 2015. This is a big tradition and it has repeatedly delivered the win (see the archives here, if you’re curious about what I’ve chosen previously). Within a couple of hours, I found myself in a bout of task overwhelm and indecision. Clear as a bell, I heard, “You just need to do one thing.” And that was that. My three words for 2015 are
In the weeks since, I’ve had a chance to appreciate the different ways in which these three words for 2015 can be meaningful. If you Google “do one thing” you’ll get a variety of results. Many have to do with a charitable appeal of some sort. Frequently, the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Do one thing that scares you every day” surfaces, too.
The concept associated with my three words for 2015 that resonates most strongly for me right now is: you can do better work and get more done if you just do one thing at a time. This goes against everything we ever believed about multi-tasking. And boy, have I thought I had multi-tasking down!
It can be really hard to accept that limiting yourself to doing one thing at a time gives better results, but it does. Scientific studies have indicated we experience a 20% loss in productivity just by switching from one task to another. This means instead of devoting 50-50 energy, a task only gets 40% of our potential. Juggle three tasks, and each one only gets 20% of our potential, because we’ve lost 20% switching two times, leaving only a total of 60% available. Yikes! No wonder we all feel so busy, and at the same time we’re getting nothing done!
Have you ever actually tried to stop multi-tasking? Over the last few weeks, I’ve made a conscious effort to observe myself. I’d take mental note when I felt compelled to check for emails or just peek at Facebook while I was completing another project. It was hard to stop doing this! I got more and more upset when I realized how much I was self-sabotaging.
We sabotage our productivity by trying to do too many things at once, but we also diminish our creativity and decision-making capabilities when more than one thing is on the table. Our brains clog. It gets so noisy in our heads we can’t hear ourselves thinking of solutions.
Writing for Entrepreneur, James Clear cites a programmer from the University of North Carolina, Fred Stutzman, who was frustrated by distractions while working on his thesis. Stutzman went on to create some software to block his computer from letting him stray from a task for a certain period of time. If he wanted to divert from an application, he’d have to turn off his computer and reboot it. Perhaps you’ve downloaded Fred’s program: Freedom. Over half a million others have.
Clear’s article also mentions another concept we’ve looked at (see Keeping Your Options Open Will Cost You) from time to time, the Paradox of Choice: “People often say that they want options. When it comes to getting things done, however, options aren’t always a good thing. When everything is a possibility, it actually becomes harder to make the right choice (or any choice at all).”
Pete and I found this to be true when planning our travels for 2015. (And boy, do we have some exciting destinations to look forward to. Never in our wildest dreams!) During the beginning stages, we’d say “Oh, we could go here, go there, go everywhere.” And no plans got made. The inability to commit in the face of so much choice was stunning and frustrating.
Only when our choices were narrowed by external factors could we focus. And the universe presented us with a fantastic itinerary that we never would have conjured up ourselves. Having a deadline with certain resources really helped: we had to get certain things booked. Perception of loss outweighs the false merit of too many options.
The biggest consequence of indecision is that nothing happens. You can make something happen, on the other hand, if you just remember my three words and do one thing. James Clear says sometimes “what we need is a tunnel that can reduce our choices and send us in a focused direction.” Harness horses wearing blinders don’t veer.
We’ve got a comprehensive strategic plan filled with objectives and tactics for 2015. The mere sight of it could produce overwhelm. The nice thing is each tactic in the plan can stand alone as long as I use my three words as a process mantra.
How about you? Could you commit to just do one thing given your current habits? Does the idea even appeal to you? Do you make resolutions, set goals, or have you chosen three words for 2015 yourself? Let us know in the comments! Happy New Year!