Just… can’t… focus…

When dealing with overwhelm at work, I often struggle with analysis paralysis.  Heard of it?  It’s the inability to choose one option, when presented with a boatload of options.  That’s a scientific term right there – boatload.

analysis paralysis do mindless tasks instead

So many Pop Tarts! Which one to choose?

Now, where was I again?  Oh, yes – trying to pick which task to start on first at work.  So damn many choices!  How do I pick just one!?  What if I don’t pick the right one?  What if…Squirrel!

Well, on the days when everything is important, but nothing is urgent, and you just. can’t. focus…  The option might be to choose “none of the above”.

“Blasphemy!” you say?  I say, “No!”  In a University of California, Davis study cited by Erin Doland in a couple of posts on Unclutterer, it was found that over-worked employees who introduced mindless tasks into their daily routine enjoyed enhanced efficiency and creativity.  In a November 2011 article, Erin provides a great list of mindless, but absolutely useful, tasks that often go undone.

Recently, I employed this tactic on a day when I just wasn’t feelin’ it, and I went down the list, item by item, and completed each one.  Here’s Erin’s list, and what I did with it.

  • File.  I keep my work files up to date, so I reorganized my files a bit, to eliminate a stand-alone file cart that I was able to move out of my workspace.
  • Review your bulletin board. I don’t use a bulletin board, so I reviewed the papers in my reference files.
  • Clean your work surface.  I disinfected my work surface, keyboard, mouse and phones – desk and mobile.  I even disinfected my lotion bottle, since I use that several times a day.
  • Enter info off business cards.  I plugged in a couple of business cards I found while moving my file folders around.
  • Back up your computer.  This is taken care of by our IT department, so I decided to clean up my computer desktop, and moved/deleted files as necessary.
  • Unclutter your bookshelves.  I used to use a lot of binders in my daily life (before moving almost to exclusively digital files), and I had held onto several from two years ago.  I cleaned them out, and placed the empty binders into a community supply area for my still-analog coworkers to use.
  • Equipment check.  Erin recommends taking stock of all your electronics – are you using all of it?  Do you know how to use all of it?  I don’t have any equipment I’m not using, so I took this time to review the apps on my iPhone, and ended up deleting a few.
  • Restock.  I went “supply shopping” when I dropped off my old binders, and picked up some paper clips and some more correction tape I’d been a bit low on.

The mindless work took the better part of the morning, and by lunchtime, my desk was the envy of the neighborhood. I felt better in the space, too.  The desktop was clean and well organized.  I had put away many of the papers that had been nagging at me, causing a surprising amount of mental drain, and I felt lighter and freer of mind.

Coolest part?  I was able to crank out two major deliverables that afternoon.  I was surprised by the boon I experienced.  I had more energy that afternoon, and was really able to focus on my work.

The benefits have lasted a few weeks now, since my workspace is still clutter-free and organized.  I have come in each morning to a clean desktop, empty in-box, and a calmer workspace.  I still have more to do than I can get to, so the overwhelm still exists, but my workspace certainly promotes a calmer environment in which to feel overwhelmed.

What I haven’t done yet is to add mindless tasks to my daily schedule at work.  The study found that the effects were greatest when the mindless work was intermingled with the mindful work – the employees had to switch from mindful work to mindless work and then back again, in order to experience the increased efficiency and creativity.  Therefore, taking a morning to be mindless was great, but if I want to reap ongoing benefits, I should schedule the upkeep of my desk into my day on a regular basis.

Will you try this?  Have you tried this?  How did it affect you?  What mindless tasks do you have on your schedule?

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