This particular post started from the title. “So many things so little time” is becoming a mantra of our generation. It is like a theme humming in my brain. I decided that if it haunts me, it must be also haunting you. In this post, I will not try to research or educate but simply share my thoughts.
Hunger to achieve more
I have a full-time job, this blog, 3 kids and several other projects which may or may not become the next great thing in my life. It’s not like I am doing nothing and I have a lot of fun in my job-related activities, but I feel that I simply cannot achieve what I want. I work very fast, and I learn very fast, and I can multitask quite well. Recently I even learned to deal with my emotional issues and if something bad happens it does not alter my working ability. I will eventually share the methodology in a minicourse I am writing. So, after filtering out all top priority tasks I still have plenty of time left. I have several great projects which are planned to use this extra time. You may know some of them, and some of them will surprise you. I feel I really need to execute these projects, yet I do nothing of the sort.
My biggest challenge
I have very little energy to actually do something risky and work-intensive since it will involve context switching. I have my multitasking capabilities occupied by the tasks I regularly do. I can handle 10 tasks without context switch and they are allocated as follows: 2 for work, 2 for home and kids, 2 for learning, 2 for keytostudy, 1 for well-being and sport. This means any additional task or recreational activity or emergency will require a “context switch” to start doing it and additional “context switch” to go back to the list of regular tasks.
What are these “context switches” I complain about? When we have an open activity, it requires several mental resources:
- “Loading” the knowledge about the subject in its status from the long-term memory to short-term memory. Typically this is best achieved by rereading the relevant “to-do” list.
- Mentally organizing to deal with the activity. Any activity has its own spectrum of arousal levels. This means some “energies” need to be tuned to deal with the challenge. If the “energies” are too high, I will probably jump and start doing dishes, and if the “energies” are too low I would probably read something for my general knowledge and otherwise procrastinate.
- Allocating resources. Some activities need several hours to complete, and it is best not to stop the process in the middle, due to additional “context switches”. Certain activities also require equipment. For example, I enjoy blogging at home with my perfect work environment (4K monitor, gaming keyboard, and mouse, Alienware computer). I am much less effective at work.
- Planning ahead. Before I start any serious activity I visualize the steps involved in the activity. It is a very good practice to reduce the amount of errors and improve efficiency, but it is also time-consuming.
How do I deal with context switches?
There are several tricks I use to reduce a number of context switches.
Replacing recurring activities. Sometimes recurring activities can be planned not happen for a week. Children can stay with grandmother. I can take a vacation from work. For a limited period of time, I can decide to stop learning. If I need to do errands or get sick, I can even stop sport and well-being activities. I can suspend all keytostudy communication for a week. This means that at any given time I can relocate at least one of the multitasking “threads” to deal with all sorts of emergencies. In fact, I abuse this capacity, since there is almost always at least one emergency I need to deal with.
Regrouping activities. If I can mentally group several tasks under one activity, I can have extra capacity to deal with stuff. For example, if I allocate some of the learning I do to the task that is my top priority work task, I can use the extra capacity to deal with other activities. Typically if this happens I feel so happy with myself that I push in some sort of hobby I enjoy. The hobbies are very important. We need them to really enjoy life and reduce the risk of burnout.
Delegation. I try to help a lot to the people around me, especially Anna. So I feel OK occasionally to ask for favors. This means that occasionally I ask someone to take the burden off my shoulders so I can do something important. There is a price for this behavior. I need to deal with emergencies generated by people who get too tired and do things not quite as good as I would love them to be. There is also an added task of “socialization”, that is yet another activity stream: fun activities also need to be scheduled and organized.
Letting go. Occasionally letting go is not such a bad thing. In fact, most of my good projects start with me focusing on something and letting everything else go. For example, I can take Anna to a trip abroad. Or I can stay at home and write something entirely new. Or I can simply get ill and recuperate. Typically I feel good “letting go” for a week every three months. This can be great for some projects, but other projects ultimately suffer.
I was advised several times to quit my regular job and focus on my more lucrative entrepreneurial activities. Once I tried to do that, and the results were pitiful. My regular job brings me joy, social status, and stability. Without it, I became nervous and unstable. I jumped between different projects and started to pity myself. When I eventually failed in my main activities, I felt worthless, and a sort of relieved: I could go back and work in what I really like.
I also tried the other extreme. I quit all of the “extracurricular” activities for a couple of years to focus on my job and my home. The results were even worth. At the beginning, I enjoyed both good progress at work and the home chores. With time I became depressed: I started to feel underpaid at work and underappreciated at home. Apparently, I was simply not “paid” enough for my efforts.
So, ultimately, I decided that the multitasking lifestyle is what I really need to be happy. I understand that most people feel just the opposite, and it is OK to be different.
Facing an apparently insurmountable difficulty is a great growth opportunity. I am sure I will eventually find a way to hack this current context switching crisis. Quite possibly I simply need to group activities differently. There are several methods I am planning to try.
Context groups. By having two groups of tasks, I can switch between them before the weekend and after the weekend. This way, during the working part of the week I will be completely oblivious to some tasks (like taking care of home or writing blog), while during the weekend I will not remember other activities (like learning and working). This way I can potentially double my multitasking limits. I am already partially doing this, only I need to make it a full-time decision.
A task to rule all tasks. I can generate a constant task of a form “do something different”, so each day I will handle some small activity. This will potentially allow me to remove tasks that do not require a lot of effort into one container.
Behavioral automation. I may be capable to reduce the complexity of the context switch by adopting proper rituals, like specific cloth, reading, and visualization I can use when switching tasks. This way, by simply changing the cloth and reading a blog I will be able to switch tasks.
As a result, I hope to have one “do something new” thread, one “emergency handling” thread, 7 weekly threads and 7 weekend threads. I think 16 threads will cover most of my activities for now.
Even with the new tricks and a wider range of activities, there will be tasks I cannot handle. I will not even do my best since this can bring me to the verge of a burnout. I will do some progress in some areas, and no progress in other areas, and it is perfectly OK.
I know many of you face similar challenges. Maybe you do not need to manage 16 long-term activities, but even 4 or 5 activities may be a challenge. There is no good or bad answer her. Do what works for you.