Stop multitasking – operation focus

This is the first of what will probably be many posts on the subject of multitasking. It must be stopped. I’ve read numerous books about improving performance, particularly job performance, and eliminating multitasking is the single best idea I’ve heard so far.

Here’s a humorous and helpful article from A.J. Jacobs and his experiment called Operation Focus.

Hence, I’ve decided to begin a little project I call Operation Focus. I pledge to go cold turkey from multitasking for a month in a quest to regain my brain and sanity. I’ll unitask―that is, perform one activity at a time. And just as important, I’ll stick with each thing for more than my average 30 seconds. I’ll be the most focused man in the world.

It’s worth a read.

Email is the perfect example. How many times a day do you check it? When you get bored or stuck on something, do you check it just to give yourself something else to do? Where does that lead you? I suspect you often end up wasting time on something completely unrelated to the task at hand.

The goal with work is not to be busy. The goal is to get things done. There’s a huge different.

As I said, we’ll be addressing this again, but try to work on tasks or projects in 90 minute spurts. Sit and your desk and focus on that task or project, and don’t do things like check your email or have the TV on in the background. You’ll be amazed at how much you accomplish.

Accidental entrepreneurs

Many people dream of starting their own business, but many Americans are now doing it out of necessity given the realities of the high unemployment rate.

Call them accidental entrepreneurs, unintended entrepreneurs or forced entrepreneurs. A year and a half into the Great Recession, with the jobless rate hovering near double digits, corporate refugees like Lisa Marie Grillos of San Francisco are trying to fend for themselves.

Along with her brother Hernan Barangan, Mrs. Grillos started Hambone Designs, after her full-time contract position with Williams-Sonoma as a production manager wasn’t renewed in January. The new company makes bicycle bags that hold things like keys, wallets and cellphones.

“You have the time — why not focus your energy on something, rather than just trolling Craigslist and sitting and watching TV?” Mrs. Grillos says. “It’s really taking matters in my own hands.”

The Times article goes on to describe this trend further, and cites data from LegalZoom.com regarding a 10% increase in new businesses formed using its service in the first half of 2009, which surprised the company’s executives.

In many ways, a recession offers an ideal time to start a business. Many costs are lower, from rent to staff.

Taking what they can get

With unemployment soaring in the current recession, many Americans are taking jobs they would not have considered in the past.

Some of the dirtiest, smelliest, most dangerous jobs are suddenly looking a lot more appealing in this economy. People who have been out of work for months are lining up for jobs at places they once considered unthinkable: slaughterhouses, sewage plants, prisons.

“I have to just shut my mouth because I can’t do anything about it,” said Nichole McRoberts of Sedalia, Mo., who pictured more for herself at age 30 than working in a poultry plant, cutting diseased or damaged flesh off chicken carcasses.

Recessions and tight job markets always force some people to take less-desirable or lower-paying work than they are used to. But this recession has been the most punishing job destroyer in at least 60 years, slashing a net total of 6.7 million jobs.

All told, 14.5 million people were out of work last month, with a jobless rate of 9.4 percent. The result is that many people have had to seek jobs they would not have considered in the past.

Take Kristen Thompson. Before the recession, she worked at an upscale Los Angeles-area gym arranging pricey one-on-one personal training sessions. Now she’s a guard at a women’s prison in rural Wyoming.

Nobody wants to end up in this situation. Obviously, if you’re out of work, you have to start expanding your options. Hopefully we’ll start to see a rebound so this won’t be necessary, but many will have to deal with these realities for some time.

Looking forward, however, you should be making plans that will minimize the chances that you’ll be facing these tough decisions in the future.

Digital nomads and the coffee shop office

The recent article in the Washington Post is quite fascinating, particularly for someone like myself who started a virtual business ten years ago with home computers and an organizational meeting at Panera’s.

Frank Gruber’s workstation at AOL in Dulles could be in any cubicle farm from here to Bangalore — push-pin board for reminders, computer on Formica desk, stifling fluorescent lighting. It’s so drab there’s nothing more to say about it, which is why the odds of finding Gruber there are slim.

Instead, Gruber often works at Tryst in Adams Morgan, at Liberty Tavern in Clarendon, at a Starbucks, in hotel lobbies, at the Library of Congress, on the Bolt Bus to New York or, as he did last week, beside the rooftop pool of the Hilton on Embassy Row. Gruber and Web entrepreneur Jen Consalvo turned up late one morning, opened their Mac laptops, connected to WiFi and began working. A few feet away, the pool’s water shimmered like hand-blown glass.

“I like the breeze,” Consalvo said, working all the while.

Gruber and Consalvo are digital nomads. They work — clad in shorts, T-shirts and sandals — wherever they find a wireless Web connection to reach their colleagues via instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally by voice on their iPhones or Skype. As digital nomads, experts say, they represent a natural evolution in teleworking. The Internet let millions of wired people work from home; now, with widespread WiFi, many have cut the wires and left home (or the dreary office) to work where they please — and especially around other people, even total strangers.

For nomads, the benefits are both primitive and practical.

Primitive: Tom Folkes, an artificial intelligence programmer, worked last week at the Java Shack in Arlington County because he’s “an extrovert working on introvert tasks. If I’m working at home by myself, I am really hating life. I need people.” He has a coffee shop rotation. “I spread my business around.”

Practical: Marilyn Moysey, an Ezenia employee who sells virtual collaboration software, often works at Panera Bread near her home in Alexandria even though she has an office in the “boondocks.” Why? “Because there is no hope for the road system around here,” she said. Asked where her co-workers were, Moysey said, “I don’t know, because it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Nomad life is already evolving. Nomads who want the feel of working with officemates have begun co-working in public places or at the homes of strangers. They work laptop-by-laptop in living rooms and coffee shops, exchanging both idle chitchat and business advice with people who all work for different companies. The gatherings are called jellies, after a bowl of jelly beans the creators were eating when they came up with the name.

All of this makes sense, including the last part regarding co-working with others. The freedom of working from home, or from any spot you select for that matter, is very rewarding. It’s liberating to break free from the arbitrary work schedule imposed on you by your employer. On the other hand, you learn quickly that some level of self-discipline is critical.

Depending on your personality, however, one can begin to miss the daily interactions with other people. particularly friends at the office. So it’s not too surprising to hear how some decide to congregate and work side-by-side.

This brings up another topic critical for many who decide to work from home when starting a new business. Networking is critical to success, but it can also be important simply from a lifestyle and job satisfaction point of view. Many of us need to get out there, and sometimes it’s too easy to spend day after day at home. It’s not a recipe for success.

Finally, if any of this intrigues you, please check out the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. I’ll have much more to say about this in later posts, but Tim is a pioneer in lifestyle management. Check it out if you want to break away from your daily routine of going into an office.

Get travel information at Sundance Vacation.

Unemployment rate hits new 26-year high of 9.7%

We’re launching this career and jobs blog at a time when our nation is experiencing very difficult economic times. We may have averted a depression, but unemployment just hit a 26-year high of 9.7%. The economy appears to be turning, but job growth seems to be far off.

Hopefully, we can help some of you who are looking for work as we discuss career and job issues and tips. We’ll also provide information for people who want to plan their careers or possibly change careers, and for those of you who want to start a business or do a better job of managing your business or department.

This site will be about maximizing the enjoyment and rewards you get out of the career you choose, or the career or job you deem necessary under your current circumstances.

We always welcome feedback, so please let us know your thoughts.

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