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Become a master unitasker.

I'm sure that times weren't always perfect for Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family, but I often wish for that type of simple life. She was happy when she got an orange and some maple candy in her Christmas stocking. She and her sisters sewed their own dolls and spent most of their afternoons sitting in trees or playing stick ball. "Paw" was always doing one thing at a time: chopping wood, fixing the roof, taking the wagon into town for supplies. He held the reins and focused on the road. I didn't once see him take a conference call while driving. 


My career has been a hectic one, and I've had days where I was involved in so many projects at once that I felt like my head would shoot off of my shoulders like a rocket. I would start working on one task, get interuppted by someone's "emergency", run off to help them, then I'd get a phone call and need to take that. I'd walk down the hall and get pulled into a meeting, and before I knew it, it was 7pm, I hadn't eaten a thing, and the original task I started that morning would still be unfinished on my desk. 

The older I get, the more I realize that I have to slow down and focus completely on one thing at a time. This is for my own good and for the good of whatever I'm working on. Everything turns out better when it's gotten my undivided attention. This goes for my job and my relationships. No cell phones at the dinner table, people! Try simply enjoying the company of your loves ones tonight. They'll appreciate it. 

Jacquelyn Smith wrote this about unitasking at the office:

Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time, says concentration is critical. "In the old days before GPS, if you were driving around and got lost and had to look at a map, the first thing you did was to turn off the radio so you could concentrate," he says. "To successfully unitask, you need to do the same type of thing; eliminate any outside distractions."

1. Schedule time to unitask. You’ll likely spend a majority of your day multitasking, but if you know you have an important memo to write or a big decision to make, schedule time on your calendar to devote all of your attention to that one task.

2. Allocate a specific amount of time. “There’s something scary about having to focus, but if you give yourself a set amount of time, like 10 minutes, it might make it less scary for some people,” says Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting from College to Career. It’s not always feasible to spend hours or an entire day on one task, but if it requires that much time and attention, and is that significant, then you should try. Determine an amount of time you want to unitask, and follow through, Marjie Terry, VP of business development and client service at Great on the Job adds. 

3. Choose the right time of day to unitask. “Don’t decide to do it during the busiest time, like the first hour of the workday,” Pollak says. Pick a time when you’ll have the fewest distractions, or work on it over the weekend. “Sometimes you can accomplish a task that might take you the entire workday to do, in an hour on a Sunday,” she says.

4. Close your door if you have an office, and/or post a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. You shouldn’t do this too frequently, though, or you may appear isolated or incapable of dealing with any distractions, Pollak says. But if you do it occasionally, when you really need to focus on something for 15 minutes or an hour, your colleagues will probably be respectful and understanding.

5. If you don’t have an office and you’re in an open work space, like a cubicle, ask your colleagues to give you some time to focus on the task at hand by putting up a sign on your cube, sending out an e-mail, or verbally informing them of the situation. Again, you shouldn’t make a habit of this, as you don’t want your co-workers to think you’re unreachable or unapproachable. “You don’t have to announce it to the whole world,” Pollak says. Only tell those who really need to know, like the colleague who sits next to you or the one you’re working on a project with.

6. If your workplace in noisy and filled with audible distractions (like phones ringing, people talking and loud televisions) consider finding an alternative work space. Go to a nearby park, coffee shop or library where you can focus with fewer distractions, says Teri Hockett, chief executive of What’s For Work?, a career site for women. 'If the task you’re trying to accomplish doesn’t require you to be online, pick somewhere that doesn’t have Internet, or has expensive Internet,' Pollak suggests. 'This way, you’ll be less tempted to go online and be distracted by things like Facebook or e-mail.”

7. If you stay at work, clear your desk. If it’s messy and you happen to catch a glimpse of some paperwork or a post-it note with a reminder, you might be tempted to focus some of your attention on those things, as well.

8. Disconnect! This one is extremely difficult for most workers, and might not even be possible for some—but if you can, turn off your e-mail, phones, computer, etc., while you’re unitasking.

9. If you can’t disconnect completely, at least silence your devices and disable notifications. "There are websites you can visit that allow you to turn off your Internet for a period of time," Pollak says. "If you find that you’re constantly distracted by the Internet, this might be a good solution for you." You can also set your phone to go directly to voicemail or set up an auto-reply on your e-mail to let people know when you’ll be available again, and how they can reach you or a colleague in the case of an emergency.

10. If you are on an important call or need to clear your head, turn your chair around to face a wall or the door. "I’m doing this right now!" Pollak says. "It’s the only way I can prevent myself from checking e-mail while I’m talking to you."

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