Do Less, Accomplish More

Work at home moms are natural multi-taskers, and though that tendency is often to thank for the ability to cram an endless list of personal, professional and family activities and tasks into one day, it may not be the best move for your professional productivity. Mary Czerwinski, one of the leading authorities in the field of “interruption science” has researched the impact of multi-tasking at companies like Microsoft. Her studies reveal that workers take, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after responding to incoming email messages that interrupted the work at hand. Worse yet, there’s only a 60 percent chance that you’ll return to an original task with real focus post-interruption. The other 40 percent of the time, attention wanders towards other distractions, creating an endless cycle of partial attention. Though it may be counterintuitive to your work at home mom instincts, focusing one task at a time could actually lead to a more rewarding day. Here’s how to do it.

Clear space, clear mind. When examining productivity at Microsoft, Czerwinski found that bigger computer screens allowed users to complete tasks up to 44 percent more quickly. However, the issue may have less to do with actual screen size, and more to do with reducing clutter, and the minds’ temptation to wander to “what’s next” based on external stimuli.  If you’re not able to secure a larger monitor or  work space, create the illusion of it. Open just one computer window at a time, enlarged to its fullest potential, and gather any paperwork, tools, and other space-suckers in your home office, and move them elsewhere. If you can’t resist checking emails while working, take advantage of free self-discipline aids like FocalFilter, an online solution that has easy cut and paste functionality for temporary blocking of distracting sites.

Make lists. David Allen, creator of the  “Getting Things Done” system says that unless the task you’re doing is visible right in front of you, you will half-forget about it once distracted. Worse yet, it will nag at you from your subconscious, making everything you do thereafter a partial attention effort. To combat the issue, adopt a new reliance on lists. Allen says that when any interruption distracts you for longer than two minutes, it should get added to your to-do list—which you are constantly updating. Keep the list in a portable, easy to update format, so that its “real time,” all the time. Once the 100th mommy interruption of the day is resolved, immediately check your list, and go back to whatever is at the top.

Cater to your brain’s peaks.  You are probably aware of when you feel most mentally aware, but science has actually proven that people have “peak brain hours” that dictate when they excel at different activities. Secretary of the International Brain Education Association Sung Lee, MD, says that during the earlier part of the day, your brain has moderate levels of cortisol, which helps you mentally focus. Tackle projects that analysis and creativity before 11a.m.  If you’re to do-list has several tasks that require fast-paced action but little deep thought, like answering emails and phone calls, logging receipts, or completing household chores or shopping lists, do them between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. During this time, mental quickness is at a peak, thanks to reduced levels of the melatonin. The research also shows what every mom knows through experience: The brain is ready for a break around 2 p.m.! Take a brief time out with a “mommy meditation,” or at home yoga practice. If that’s not your style, simply take your computer outdoors, or to a room other than your home office for a much needed environmental refresh.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned stay at home working mom, yoga instructor and freelance writer covering personal finance, small business,consumer issues, work-life balance and health/wellness topics for ForbesWoman, Minyanville , SheKnows , Mint , Intuit Small Business, Investopedia and several other online properties. She is also the founder of Wellness On Less and Om for Mom prenatal yoga. Stephanie wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.