By: Peter Bregman
Five years ago, after becoming frustrated with my fruitless tendency to juggle multiple activities at once, I tried an experiment: for one week, I would not multitask and see what happened.
The experiment changed everything for the better. My relationships improved, my stress dissolved, and my productivity soared. There is zero downside to focusing on one thing at a time without distraction.
One of the side benefits of my focusing on one undistracted task at a time was a new and almost unbearable impatience for wasted time. In the past, if I was on a call that wasn’t going anywhere, I would do email or surf the web. In my post-multitasking world, staying focused on a dragging call was painful.
Which is how I stumbled on the single most life-changing, business-transforming revelation of my last five years:
First, though, a caveat. There are some things in my life — dinner with friends, writing, sleep, unstructured time with my family — that deserve to live in the spaciousness of stretched-out time.
But other things — like most meetings and tactical work — could benefit from compressed time.
Often we schedule one hour time slots. Why? How did an hour become our standard time allotment for so many meetings, phone calls, and appointments?
As my impatience with wasted time grew, I tried a new experiment: I cut the time I allot for many activities in half.
I started with something easy. I used to work out for an hour a day. Now it’s down to 30 minutes. My results — weight and conditioning — improved.
Here’s why: my intensity is higher (I know I only have 30 minutes), I eat better (I don’t rely on my workout to keep slim), I integrate movement more into my day (I don’t rely on my workout to take care of all my fitness), and I never miss a workout (I can always find 30 minutes).
If you have half the time to accomplish something, you become hyper-aware of how you’re using that time. And hyper-focused during it. Most of my phone calls are now 30 minutes or less. My podcast is 15 to 20 minutes. Even many of my conference calls, with multiple parties, are 30 minutes or less. People on the calls, aware of the time constraint, are more thoughtful about when they speak, and more careful not to follow tangents that aren’t useful.
People also listen better because, when things are moving faster, we tend to be more alert. We know that a single distracted moment will leave us behind. And, since that keeps us more engaged, we end up having more fun in the process.
Nowhere has this impact been more transformational — and more evident — than in the leadership coaching we do at Bregman Partners. For the past several years, all the coaching we do is accomplished in 30-minute sessions.
The obvious advantages are obvious: everyone saves time and money.
But here’s what’s less obvious: the coaching isn’t simply as powerful, it’s vastly more so. When the coach and the client both know they have only 30 minutes, they move into high gear.
The downside? I haven’t seen one yet.
Try it yourself. Transition some of your hour-long meetings to 30 minutes. As you do, consider these three steps as a way to make the 30 minutes most powerful:
You will need these “get to the most critical point fast” skills — and the courage to use them — if you are going to make the most of your time. You need to be bold, and even provocative. You need to be willing to interrupt, thoughtfully and for the greater good of moving ambitiously towards what is most important. You need to let go of things that don’t really matter.
And you need to be fully present. No multi-tasking. No texting under the table. No distractions. Which is also the upside: you get to be fully present in what you are doing.
There is a cost. While it’s energizing, it also takes a lot of energy to be so focused, even for a short amount of time. It’s a sprinter’s tactic.
On the other hand, when you cut your meetings and other activities in half, you’ll have a lot more time to relax at dinner with friends, write, sleep, and spend unstructured time with people you love.
Reprinted with permission.
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