In the movie Apollo 13, engineers in the simulator are trying to determine in what sequence the space shuttle computer systems can be re-started given the power that remains after an explosion. One of the options offered is to draw power from the lunar module but another engineer cautions that they will lose considerable power in the switch. In the end, they do utilize that supplemental power source and, as we all know, the shuttle returns successfully.

We aren’t all so fortunate as to have an alternate source of power or to have the capacity to lose energy but still have positive consequences. I am feeling this first-hand this week as I try to divide my focus between a looming grant deadline and preparation for an upcoming residency, as well as attending to the ongoing projects that are always on my plate. It’s all important and as I go deep in one task, the sense of urgency of the other beckons me to work on it for a while. Not a good plan!

As our minds and attention alternate between projects or address interruptions, we lose energy when we try to re-power our work. If you take a phone call or stop for an appointment, you can’t just pick up where you were – it requires a bit of backtracking to reconnect with the thought you vacated. If you work on “this” for a while and then “that” for a bit, you’ll produce less than if you had stayed with one or the other for the same period.

One moment of lost power is inconsequential, but several of them throughout the day can alter your productivity on all your work as you never really obtain full focus on anything. Solid, uninterrupted big chunks of time are rare, but carve out precious, uninterrupted smaller bits of time in your calendar. Then align your to-do list with the time increments you’re likely to have available and stick with one thing during each of them. You’ll find that your best work happens in blocks, not bites.

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