Forget Multitasking (If You Can) – Five Tips for Getting Stuff Done

July 9, 2007

I just finished a great book called Getting Things Done, by David Allen. It was about more than time management – it focuses on really managing all you do rather than letting it control you. I’d definitely recommend it as a great read.

Though at this point in my career I can see how a lot of his advice would be helpful, there are levels of his system that just don’t seem to apply to me. For instance, I’m not a file-folder-in-filing-cabinets person. Plus, maybe it’s that generational thing, but I need a system that will only take me 20 minutes a day to manage

And, even though it may not be good for me, I can’t give up multitasking all at once. But I’m working on the time management thing. So, I thought I’d share my favorite five tips for getting things done.

1. Separate projects from tasks. This was one of the main things I gleaned from Getting Things Done. It’s not exactly what Allen prescribes, but it’s how I adapt it to my life. I have two lists – one of projects, one of tasks. Most of the tasks have to do with the projects. I revise and print my task list at the start of each day so I’m starting out fresh. The projects list I look at once a week to make sure I have written down tasks that move each of my projects forward. I also put spur-of-the-moment stuff on my task list. So far, this has saved me tons of time and helped me keep working on all priority level projects and tasks.

2. Learn the power of the verb. Now that my projects have their own list, every time I write something down on my task list, it begins with a verb. No matter what. No more is my daily to-do list filled with projects like “Communication Plan for HR” or “Client Newsletter.” Now, I can easily navigate through tasks like “Draft Proposal for HR Comm Plan” and “Select Three Topics for Client Newsletter.” Golden. There really is something to the power of the verb.

3. Use technology to manage tasks and projects, but don’t get distracted by it. Programs like the task manager in Microsoft Outlook are great, but don’t get so caught up in them that you spend more time using the programs than doing your actual work. Take the time to learn the programs and use the functions you really need.

4. Get your information at regularly scheduled times; don’t let it interrupt you. Turn off instant messaging, close your e-mail and take calls only when you can be disturbed. Most experts recommend checking e-mail once an hour. This is admittedly one of my main weaknesses. I’m in a line of work where I deal with people who expect to be called or e-mailed back pretty quickly. So, I’m starting small by checking my e-mail only once every half hour and returning phone calls once or twice a day, unless it’s urgent.

5. Don’t seek out distractions to give your brain a “break.” The average worker wastes at least two – three hours each workday, and for most young workers, much of that time is online. You may think that checking out what’s new at PerezHilton.com will give you that brain boost of distraction you crave, but it will probably lead you to what Britney Spears just posted on her website, and on from there. Even if you try to keep it work related by checking the business section of CNN.com, do you really need to know about the seven-year-old who heroically saved that kennel of dogs from drowning? I didn’t think so. Keep your online reading habits in check. I think we’d all gain tons of time each day if we could just take this fully to heart.

There’s a few of my top suggestions for getting things done. I’m sure there are tons I’ve missed, and these may or may not work for you, so please share your time management / productivity tips in the comments below.

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23 Responses to “Forget Multitasking (If You Can) – Five Tips for Getting Stuff Done”


  1. Great tips, Tiffany. I am awful at switching the way I do “to do lists” every couple months. And every time I believe I have found *the* system that will work for me. It’s a good reminder not to be distracted by new tools, or an overload of information!


  2. Rebecca,
    I had been very much the same way – making a new list format, switching programs, getting excited over the next new thing – I had project management ADD or something. But I’ve really tried to take these five things to heart in the past few months, and I think my productivity has probably doubled.


  3. Tiffany – Excellent tips. I especially like the one about using verbs to make your to-do list more actionable. Even if it’s something as minor as “call Bob M” vs. just jotting down “Bob M” knowing that this will remind you to call can make a difference. Better yet: “Call Bob M at 2 p.m.” sets a time – more easily actionable, less easy to put off. Thanks for a great post.

  4. Joselle Says:

    Hi Tiffany,

    This post is a great distillation of Allen’s book, which I’ve skimmed through and found very informative. The internet is my hugest timesucker. I really need to work on keeping an effective e-mail/browsing schedule. Actually, right now I am wasting time!

    I also love the tip about starting with verbs in your tasks list. I have no problem making to-do lists. In fact, I make several everyday. What I need to work on is clearly and simply defining what I need to get done and figuring out how much time I reasonably need to achieve it.

    I found you on Brazen Careerist and am really enjoying your blog.

  5. Tiffany Says:

    I’m glad you found my blog! I’m really enjoying writing it.

    I think it’s difficult for anyone to find ways to manage their time that works for them. A lot of what works for someone has to do with their personality and preferences, so since I’m also a list person, I had to find a way to make my lists work for me and not against me.

    Glad you enjoyed the post! Your blog looks great too. I’m hungry already after checking out the great recipes you have.


  6. […] is this enough to convince you to break the habit of multitasking and focus on time management and getting things done? Okay, I’ll give you snacking and listening to music while you’re reading this blog. I […]


  7. Great post, Tiffany. I think limiting distractions, staying organized and on top of tasks and projects, and getting things done is a challenge we all struggle with. I know I do.

    I’ve been off and on for the past year or so in following a modified version of David Allen’s plan. The 43 folders thing doesn’t quite work for me — far too much work and time consuming. But creating a list of next actionable items is something I’ve certainly taken from David. For work at Monster, where I’m almost always connected to a computer, I tend to use this site: http://www.tadalist.com/

    For family/home stuff and my own personal projects I use a mix of a physical notebook (gasp! it’s not all online!) and Google’s suite of excellent tools — gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar.

    The system is always a work in progress, and I’m always looking for ways to improve it — which is why I enjoy blog posts like this one!

  8. Tiffany Says:

    Thanks for the tip, Bryan! That site looks like a great tool. I work in front of my computer all day too. The thing I find most appealing and challenging about Allen’s solution is it’s a whole-life process. Not just work. Not just home. I’m like you. Digital for work, analog for home(I’m a paper list person!). So I’m still working on it myself, but I’m finding much more success and produdctivity when I am actually working on it, as opposed to just doing whatever and not taking the time to think about how I work.


  9. It’s true, Tiffany. We could talk the whole day “organzing” all of our folders and not actually get any work done!

    So, we’ll keep struggling along together.


  10. […] Forget Multitasking (If You Can) – Five Tips for Getting Stuff Done « Little Red Suit A post about multitasking and getting things done that I commented on (tags: commented multitasking overload) […]


  11. […] babysat my best friend’s daughter for three hours. I got virtually nothing checked off the to do list. I had hoped to get a lot more done than playing blocks and reading the same book over and over […]


  12. I picked up your site through Lindsey Pollak’s joining your group on Facebook (isn’t internet networking faboo?), and I’m so glad I clicked over here. I’m printing out this piece and taking it to my next staff meeting.

  13. Tiffany Says:

    Kate,
    Glad you found the site and find it useful! It’s so great to see ideas spread through this blog. That’s the point, after all!


  14. […] age, it’s more time-effective to shoot an e-mail than to walk into the boss’s office. We don’t have enough time for anything, so we rely on MySpace to see photos of our friends children and get updates on their […]


  15. […] 1. Forget Multitasking (If You Can) – Five Tips for Getting Stuff Done […]


  16. […] Forget Multitasking (If You Can) – Five Tips for Getting Stuff Done […]

  17. Mike Gillis Says:

    Hi Tiffany,

    Nice list, I find many people get overwhelmed when trying to completed a project because they try to work at it all at once instead of chunking it up into smaller tasks that can they completed quicker and easier.

    I just posted a related article on how to get more done in your online business and have added a link to your article.


  18. […] vs. Time Management and Forget Multitasking if You Can by Tiffany […]

  19. Minnie Says:

    But wait, aren’t you distracting your brain when you can be getting things done by reading this article/blog post? I really don’t care, because I loved the great tips! Thank you very much for posting this!

  20. mk bags Says:

    I am actually glad to glance at this blog posts which consists of tons of valuable facts, thanks
    for providing these kinds of data.

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