Dear Puttylike reader, this is a classic Puttylike post. Meaning, it’s from the early days–from before I really found my voice or knew what I was doing. I’ve chosen to keep this post online for the benefit of Puttylike readers who have worked their way backward through the archives. And also to highlight the fact that everybody starts somewhere! xo, Emilie
Every multipotentialite is different. Some of us have twenty different projects going on at once, while others focus intensely on one thing for years before switching direction.
We’re plate-spinners and dabblers, sequential deep divers, undercover double agents and hybrids of the above. (For an extensive look at the different types of scanners, check out Barbara Sher’s brilliant book, Refuse to Choose.)
To make matters even more complicated, we have interests that come and go in a matter of hours and interests that stay with us for years or reappear periodically in different forms. How do you tell the difference between the two and how do you fit them all in?
The good news is that it’s totally possible to make room in your schedule for multiple long term projects and exploration. All it takes is a bit of mental preparation.
Imagine a giant switch in your head
Imagine that your brain has two settings: focus mode and scanning mode. At any given time, you’re either in one mode or the other. Lets take a look at each.
Focus Mode is used to make headway on one high priority project of choice.
One focus? Blasphemy, I know… But bear with me.
It doesn’t have to be for a long period of time. Depending on the nature of your project, your scanning type and your propensity for ADD attacks, focus mode may last 20 minutes, a few hours or a week.
Hell, it could even last months or years (with breaks of course) if you’re a hardcore deep diving, sequential multipod. Some scanners are perfectly happy focusing on one project for a long period of time before they change directions entirely. Others, most certainly, are not.
Your focus period can be SHORT
If you’re hyperventilating by the thought of focusing on only one thing, relax. This doesn’t need to be a major commitment. If you have trouble focusing on one thing for very long, then make your focus period ridiculously short. How does 5 minutes sound?
My friend James studies Japanese for 15 minutes a day, that’s it. Does he make progress on that goal and other goals? You betcha.
What’s important isn’t the length of time, but that you make the distinction in your head that you are in focus mode, not scanning mode. It’s not time to be multitasking.
Work in spurts
Studies show that we work best in 40-90 minute increments. Take a break or stop entirely after this time is up. I find that 40-90 min is usually the longest I can focus on one project anyway. Then I need to use another part of my brain.
Match your spurts of focus with your body’s natural productivity rhythm
For bonus points, determine your most inspired times of the day and match them with your spurts in focus mode. I tend to be most creative in the morning, which roughly coincides with two spurts of 90-minute focus. I’ll either spend this time on one project with a short break in between, or I’ll switch to new project after my first spurt ends.
I also know from paying attention to my body, that I get a burst of energy at night, which again, I try to match up with a few additional spurts in focus mode. (This is why I tend to schedule my social activities for between 2pm-7pm, during my unproductive time. So if you ever want to take me out for tea, this would be the best time to propose a get together. 😉
The high school timetable approach
Several short spurts in focus mode is how I manage to cycle through many different projects in one day. I work intensely on one project for an hour, take a short break and then work intensely on something entirely unrelated. It’s sort of like how things were back in high school: 45 minutes focusing on only history, 45 minutes focusing on only math, and so on (except way more fun, obviously).
The high school timetable method isn’t right for all scanners. You may prefer to work on one project only for the entire day, a week or longer.
The basic rule: Work on one project till you get bored or lose interest (for however long that may be) and then switch to something new.
As long as you focus on one project at a time, you’ll be fine. The trouble comes when you try multitasking.
The difference between multi-focusing and multitasking
Multitasking is incredibly destructive when you’re in focus mode. You don’t think about your art project when you’re in English class, right? You think about Beowulf, or whatever.
Multi-focusing and multitasking are two very different beasts. Multi-focusing is the process of pouring all your energy into one project for a short period of time and then switching to another project and focusing on only that.
Multitasking, on the other hand, involves thinking about everything at once and doing small actions related to many projects at the same time.
Multitasking is a highly ineffective way of making progress. However, it is a great way of exploring new possible interests…
Multitasking is good sometimes
If the idea of avoiding multitasking sounds too difficult for your overstimulated brain, don’t worry. Unlike the typical productivity gurus, I’m not going to tell you to cut out multitasking altogether. That’s just unrealistic.
Multipotentialites need unstructured time to explore new ideas
We are constantly becoming curious about new things. It’s part of our make up and it’s one of the best things about being a scanner. There’s no need to feel guilty about multitasking, you just need to relegate it to its proper time and place. That’s precisely what scanning mode is for.
Stay tuned for installment #2 in the Multi-Focus Maverick Series for a lengthy look at scanning mode and effective multitasking.
What strategies do you use for making progress on many goals?