Tag Archives: single-tasking

“Inspiration is Perishable” – And a Few Other Valuable & Useful Lessons from Rework by Fried and Hansson

I just presented my synopsis of Rework for some folks at Gaylord.  Terrific group – wonderful session.  It’s been a while since I’ve looked at this book.

Here are some takeaways:

• Some over-all observations from the book:

1)    This book is a blinding flash of the obvious (that’s what many good books are!)
2)    Results really, really matter – almost nothing else does.
3)    Be happy with good enough – but remember, good enough is never shoddy.
4)    Revenue in has to surpass expenses out.  This is the first law of business.  Otherwise, you don’t have a business – you have a hobby.
5)    Do what you need; make sure your product pleases you, meets your needs…  Then your customers will get what they need.

And, I concluded my synopsis with these:

• Six things you can do to respond to the counsel in this book:

1)  Spend only what you have to – be frugal.
2)  Focus on results – and nothing else.
3)  When you have a moment of inspiration, go with it.  Don’t let up.  — “Inspiration is perishable.”
4)  Single task – spend long stretches of time alone to make something happen.
5)  Take (better) care of yourself.  — “Forgoing sleep is a bad idea.”
6)  But, when you work, work hard – with focus – until you get something done.

• And remember – you are a manager of one.  “You come up with your own goals, and you execute.”  (Look for others who are successful at being a manager of one; hire only those, and, only when you have to).

Rework is a good book.  The chapters are short, “bite-size.”  Perfect for a few minutes of reading here and there.  Check it out.


You can purchase my synopsis of Rework, with audio + handout, from our companion web site at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

“You Cannot Do More Than One Thing At A Time” – Science Comfirms The Advantage Of “Single-Tasking”

This is from a recent interview by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.  (Listen, and read transcript, here).  I did not hear it live, and my wife “encouraged” me to listen to it.  (I wonder why?!)

The interview is with NY Times technology journalist Matt Richtel, who writes the series Your Brain on Computers, and his latest column is Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime (some of these ideas are discussed in this interview).

One key problem – multitasking.  His blunt conclusion: It’s pretty clear to scientists you cannot do more than one thing at a time.

Here is the key excerpt from the interview:

Well, that’s very ironic because we think when we’re multi-tasking that we’re really doing great, we’re getting two things done for the price of one or three things done in the amount of time it should take to do one thing. But what are scientists learning about how efficiently we’re doing any of those two or three things when we do them at the same time?

Yeah, this is another place where I don’t have to equivocate. It’s pretty clear to scientists you cannot do more than one thing at a time (emphasis added). This research goes back years, and it is having like its new day in the sun, its new applicability.

Your brain effectively processes one stream of information at a time. I’ve heard this very basic test from a Stanford scientist that has stuck with me. It’s a kind of cocktail party test that researchers have known about for years, where if you sit at a cocktail party and you’re listening to the person in front of you, you can’t really listen to the person behind you.

In fact, you may pick up very basic things like your name being said, if someone says it behind you, but beyond that, you’re not processing both those streams of information.

So apply that to the person sitting at a desk, fiddling with a device or trying to read an IM while surfing a website or talking on the phone to a boss or colleague or subordinate. What you are basically doing is switching rapidly among those tasks, not doing them at the same time.

And all the research says when you switch among those tasks, you cut your effectiveness at each one of them by a significant degree.

Listen to the full interview here.  It is worth your full, undivided, undistracted attention.

About that multi-tasking expertise…

A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen.  If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.  That’s how medical errors are made.
Levitt and Dubner, Superfreakonomics

The books say that women are better at multitasking than men.  Maybe so.  But I’ve got a theory that all of us have trouble multi-tasking.  In fact, I would argue that focus is lost by most attempts to do multi-tasking.  Some call the problem Adult ADD, but I think I would call our era the era of focus deficiency syndrome.

The quote above from Superfreakonomics jumped off the page at me.  The quote comes from a section of the book discussing medical errors.  But it’s the first part that grabs me:
A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen.  If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.

This rings true – to me.  I had not heard of “cognitive drift,” but the phrase certainly describes me — a lot; frequently; maybe constantly.  My mind is constantly drifting.  I will look something up/do a google search, and as I am waiting for it to load (and, yes, I do have a fast-speed connection) my mind has already gone elsewhere, and it may or may not make it back to where it was just a few seconds earlier.

For my own life, I have found that to read a book effectively – you know, with focus — I have to turn my phone off, my e-mail off, and keep my sight lines relatively clear of anything but the pages of the book.  Otherwise, I find myself constantly facing the problem of “my mind is somewhere else” entirely.

The ability to focus on one thing at a time — the ability to single-task — may be a new necessary job skill.  I know that it’s a skill that I definitely need to master.