Time Management II – Chunking and Checking

When I think of the article on workplace FOMO and the constant message-checking behaviors, it reminds me of a young man I worked with in my psychiatry practice. Tim (not his real name) was in his early thirties and grew up with a variety of challenges, including learning disorders and severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is an extreme manifestation of 1) an internal anxiety state with distressing obsessive thought loops, and 2) repetitive external behaviors that help reduce the internal sense of anxiety.

As an adult, Tim lived alone in an apartment next to his mother’s home, and he had persistent internal thoughts and anxiety that something was wrong at his apartment. To alleviate this anxiety, he performed a variety of checking behaviors like turning the stove on and off twenty times, opening and closing a door twenty times, or touching a window twenty times.

With psychotherapy treatment, Tim learned to recognize and understand his OCD, but he could not turn it off. With medication, his anxiety decreased enough for him to create short chunks of time for him to complete his checking routines. He spent ten minutes on a checking routine in the morning before he left for work and another ten minutes in the evening before he went to bed. We measured success by the number of anxious phone calls to his mother.
Without medication, Tim would engage in checking activities for up to an hour in the morning, making him late for work. He would have been checking things at night and unable to fall asleep for hours. In other words, untreated OCD and checking behaviors would have made him nonfunctional and unable to support himself.

The idea behind chunking is simple — you chunk together similar tasks in a set amount of time to minimize task shifting. This helps your brain focus on the task at hand and not jump around to other tasks (see multitasking in chapter 1). You then create routines where these chunks are lined up in a predictable, repetitive fashion so your brain knows what to expect and can start to go on autopilot.

By having routines, you decrease the number of cognitive decisions you must make throughout the day — should I do A or B next? Chunking and routines are powerful tools to improve your day-to-day experience at work.

Dr Jennie Byrne © All Rights Reserved