Are you trying too hard?

In this video, I talk about task exhaustion, and how to overcome it. We are trained to focus and get things done, but when we try too hard, sometimes we find ourselves more and more distracted. How can we set ourselves up to succeed?

Transcript Highlights:

We’re going to go to Peter Bregman, on set now . . . . We’re talking about sometimes when you want to succeed you just have to quit and stop trying so hard. Walk away from it for a little bit.

We are so trained to focus and focus and focus and try to get things done. We’ve all been there when we’re trying to work on something and it’s not happening. We just work harder and we try to focus more. Yet we find ourselves more and more distracted.

There’s a difference between task exhaustion and focused exhaustion. The way I think about it is, there are times when I just can’t work on something anymore. I’m writing a piece and I just can’t keep working on that piece but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do a bunch of emails or that I can’t focus on a conversation, a difficult conversation that I’m having with people. But instead if I keep trying to focus on writing the piece that’s not coming, I’ll start dictating myself with very unproductive, useless kinds of tasks.

Okay. What are some ways to avoid this task fatigue?

So the task fatigue, the way to avoid it is, the first thing is decide on five areas of focus. Five things that are important for you to work on, somewhere over the next week. I look at five areas of focus for the year but I think it’s very important to diversify your focus. Not too much, don’t focus on twenty things. Focus on five things that are going to make the biggest difference for you if you move forward on them and spend time on them. That’s the first thing, to diversify your focus.
The second is to switch liberally between these five. If I know that it’s really important for me to build a team and I know it’s really important for me to write an article then I’m going to write that article and when I feel like I’ve hit task fatigue on the article then I’ll go deal with having conversations with people on the team. I’ll know what my top five are all the time so that I’m not too distracted and I can keep moving from one to the other to the other. I don’t move every four minutes. I’ll spend an hour doing something, I’ll have a half hour phone conversation but I’m sure that I’m switching the kinds of tasks that I’m doing so that I’m not staring at a screen all the time.

Refreshing your mind a little bit too. You say here don’t multitask but I mean I’m an expert at multitasking. A lot of women are particularly.

You think you’re an expert at multitasking but you’re not actually an expert at multitasking. It’s actually impossible. Our brains don’t multitask. What our brains do is switch tasks. They go very, very quickly from one thing to another.

We lose valuable time in the process of going from one thing to another. I’m looking at an email and then I pick up the phone and then I talk on the phone and I’m kind of looking at the email but I’m not really because I’m talking on the phone and then I go back and I have to re-read the email because I don’t remember what it was that I was reading. We think we multitask but we don’t, we just switch back and forth.

You know what usually works for me when I’m stuck on something? I say I have twenty five minutes. I’m going to get this done in twenty five minutes and sometimes with the stroke of genius, that can help.

That’s a great process because then you really, really focus and sometimes you get into it and you find it’s been forty five minutes and you’ve still worked on it and then you hit your task fatigue at that point and then you switch. The important thing is to switch from one important productive task to another important productive task.


  1. Linda Pilgrim says:

    Thank you for the reminders of things I’ve learned but stray from sometimes. I’m especially glad that you reminded the interviewer and audience of the myth of multitasking, including the published scientific research to back it up, done by Clifford Nass of Stanford [who sadly died at only age 55 last year] and oodles of broadcast and printed news media reports revealed by a quick online search.

  2. Zachary Cochran says:

    Nice inclusion of the transcript. Sent it to Pocket. Thanks!

  3. Ashok Chand says:

    Great Video
    After many years of struggle, in my twilight years, I realised that this is something I now need to do. My first indication was that I cant just read one book at a time (i was having trouble finishing them). So I now read about 4 to 5 books at a time.

    I was pondering if I should do the same in other areas.

    Good to see that I can.

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