One of the male FBI agents on my squad was talking about household chores that needed to get done. He then ended the conversation with, “I’ll let the wife handle it.” I was a female FBI agent carrying the same amount of assignments as my male counterpart. I couldn’t help but spit out: “We could all use a good wife!”
My retort was met with icy silence but I had made my point. Today’s professional woman is just as busy as her male counterpart. For those of us who don’t have domestic help, it quickly becomes a situation of trying to balance two jobs at once.
In recent years more men have taken on equal responsibility for child-rearing and home-maintenance. Studies have found, however, that most women still face an uphill battle when it comes to juggling their priorities.
Whether women resist giving up control at home, or whether the tasks are foisted upon them, it is clear that women need to rewire their thinking. They need to be more efficient at juggling multiple mental tasks to enhance their performance.
Here are 6 ways busy women can get more organized:
1. DON’T BELIEVE THE LIE
Busy women are told they can multi-task better than men to meet the busy challenges of both life and work. But they are getting sucked into a lie—a big one with serious consequences.
While there has been a lot of talk about how women can multi-task, there is very little science to back up this assertion. In fact, psychologists have only been able to confirm that men are slower than women when switching quickly between tasks.
It is possible to engage in several tasks at once but it’s also clear that accuracy and performance drops off quickly—for both men and women.
The reason multi-tasking is not efficient is because the brain works in a serial manner—one thing after another.
People can observe multiple activities, but they are not able to pay equal attention to all of them.
Tip: Busy women should practice how to switch rapidly between tasks. And focus all of their attention on each task as they do so.
2. PRACTICE ROUTINE ACTIVITIES
In the course of a busy day there are times when we all need to perform more than one task at a time. One way to juggle more than one ball is to practice specific, routine activities over and over again until they become embedded. Once that activity is embedded, start layering by adding more activities.
Driving to work is a perfect example: you do not need to “think” about the route you drive, the radio station to select, which exit to take, or directions to your office.
These activities are embedded into your thinking because your brain likes to identify patterns. The more you use a pattern, the less attention you will need to complete the task.
Tip: Busy women need to embed repetitive tasks as much as possible because it will free up their brain. This will allow them to focus on other tasks that arise during a busy day.
3. PRIORITIZE INFORMATION
We’ve all experienced a barrage of information coming at us all at once. As a result, we sometimes get paralyzed and feel that we can’t move ahead with any decision! This is a normal reaction because your brain is experiencing an overload of information that is queuing up for attention.
Just like a computer can get constipated with too many jobs coming in at once, our brain reacts in much the same way.
Tip: When busy women find themselves confronted with chaos or bottlenecks, prioritize the information. Once they introduce order into the way they make your decisions, they will free up the brain’s energy so it has more space for other information.
4. WORK IN SPRINTS
Physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman has discovered that we operate in a 90-minute rhythm throughout the day by moving progressively through periods of higher and lower alertness. After working at high intensity for more than 90 minutes, we begin relying on stress hormones for energy.
The result is that our prefrontal cortex starts to shut down; we begin to lose our ability to think clearly and move into a physiological state commonly referred to as “fight or flight.”
This research confirms that we have a need for rhythmic pulses of rest and renewal throughout our day. Many of us rely on willpower to bulldoze through lengthy projects or meet deadlines, but taking regular breaks is just what our brain needs.
Tip: Busy women need to resist overriding a period of low alertness with caffeine. Instead, manage your time by working hard for 90 minutes and then take a 20-minute break. Make it a priority each morning to focus single-mindedly on your most challenging and important task for 60 to 90 minutes before taking a break. Even better, encourage those who work for you to do the same.
5. USE WISDOM WHEN SPLITTING ATTENTION
If you feel pressured by several things at once, make a conscious decision as to whether you should split your focus, and then put a time limit on how long you will spend spitting your attention.
Afterward, go back and focus on your first priority. If a thought should enter your mind about another matter, jot a quick note to remind you at a later date and resume focusing on your priority.
It is possible to juggle several things at once, but remember, the only way to do multiple mental tasks, if accuracy is important, is by doing them one at a time.
Tip: Busy women need to be observant at meetings. If you’re speaking and observe that people are splitting their attention by texting or checking email, announce that the next point you are going to make is important so you get their full attention.
6. RECOGNIZE YOUR BRAIN LOVES VISUALS
Visuals are a great way to activate the mind. That’s why storytelling, pictures, and metaphors work so well — they generate an image.
Visuals are laden with information. They provide color, shape, size, context, etc. Since they take less energy than words, they are efficient ways for the brain to process information.
Tip: Busy women should grab a pen and paper and write down their prioritized projects for the day. This saves their brain from the need to recall and review each one. Save that energy for getting those tasks done! There is a reason checklists are so useful.
The biggest tip of all
While busy women can use these tips to help them get more organized, the same tips apply to busy men!
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