A few days ago, I had all of the following done by 12 noon:
– took 15,000 steps
– listened to 90 minutes of “The 48 Laws of Power” on audiobook
– wrote ‘Why Eating Out Makes Me Sad’
– read Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” cover to cover
– grabbed office supplies for my photography business
– and most importantly: even had two beers at the pub!
At no point did I feel rushed or stressed, and I’m happy to say mornings like this are a regular occurrence for me now. I exercise, expand my personal knowledge, do a bit of work, and even take time to relax… All before some people take their lunch break.
Sure, Ben, you’re probably thinking. You can do all that before 12 noon because you’re an entitled douchebag without a day job. Try working for 8 hours a day like the rest of us.
Uh, well, I do. By midnight that day, I was up to 28,000 steps with a 7-hour liquor store shift behind me. Even then, no rush and no stress. I felt more productive than ever, and it was all due to a simple idea I like to call “compound tasking”. Here’s how it works.
Compound tasking and multitasking are completely different beasts. The first distinction is that compound tasking comes into play when you have both a professional goal and a personal goal, and want to work on both at the same time. Multitasking tends to be all about work. Examples of multitasking include Elon Musk’s version of productivity – “he sends emails while scanning invoices, holds meetings and takes care of business on his phone at the same time, and even texts with his children on his lap”. (One could argue he’s also spending time with his family in the last example, but let’s come back to that in a bit. There’s only one hard no-no about compound tasking, and we’ll talk about that at the end.) On the other hand, compound tasking looks more like this – I get my exercise by walking 5 kilometres to the office supply shop while answering business texts on my phone, and I listen to mind-expanding audiobooks at the same time. My work obligations are taken care of, I’m looking after my health, and I’m actively learning… ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
I try to adopt compound tasking in all my activities. Even my shifts at the liquor store involve it, and I deliberately chose that side job with compound tasking in mind. For one, it expands my knowledge of beer, wine and spirits, which is a hobby of mine. On top of that, it provides me great exercise as I unload the weekly orders. It also gives me just enough downtime to actually stop and think about things. The job isn’t very mentally taxing, and I often formulate new business ideas and write post drafts as I work, usually while pacing the store to burn calories. And SOMEHOW, I’m getting paid for it all just by being present and stocking the occasional shelf! Compound tasking even reinvigorates me as I work because I’m working on a personal goal at the same time. I volunteer for the most physically active tasks to get more in shape, and end up looking super productive in the process! You can do this too!
Can you do double duty on your goals and attack personal accomplishments during your workday? Harvard Business Review suggests that “walking meetings support cognitive engagement, or focus, on the job”, but maybe you just want more Fitbit steps like I do. Look into them. Maybe you’re a security guard and most of your job involves just staying in one place. Can you listen to an audiobook or podcast instead of just throwing on Top 40? Trust me, the Adele lyrics never change. What if you’ve got a side hustle in addition to your day job? Write down ideas for your 10-to-2 while you work your 9-to-5!
Ever wonder why achieving a personal goal seems so hard? IT’S BECAUSE YOU PRIORITIZE THEM LESS THAN YOUR GODDAMN DAY JOB. STOP THAT.
A final note: Don’t attempt compound tasking with your friends and family. They’re not “a task that needs to be done”, they’re people. Spend time with them fully, and engage them with undivided attention. If you follow my advice on compound tasking, you’re gonna end up with more time anyway. Don’t forget to use it wisely.