Sharon Epperson covers personal finance issues for CNBC, from saving and investing to preparing for college and retirement. She hosts the network's original digital series "Retire Well" and "Your Money, Your Future," and is a regular contributor on NBC, MSNBC and PBS. She is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and has taught at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.
Not focusing on the moment. One of the mistakes I’ve made in my career that’s been a big one is being so busy focusing on so many things at the same time that I’m not focusing as well as I should on what I’m doing at the moment.
And I think it’s very important for many of us who pride ourselves on being the best multitaskers out there [to know] that it’s very difficult to do that effectively. And that it’s really important to be fully engaged on what you’re doing at the moment.
I realized this when I had a major health scare a year and a half ago. I was trying to do everything right — and to the best of my ability — at the same time. I was trying to make sure that I had everything in place. And then, all of the sudden, I literally had an explosion in my brain [an aneurysm]. I didn’t have a health risk that caused this. It just happened.
I see it as a wake-up call, to say, “Wait a minute. You’re doing too much. You’re trying to do everything. Just sit back and wait and take a moment to try and focus on what you need to be doing at this particular time.”
Part of the reason I don’t multitask in the same way now is my medical providers have told me I can’t. And that I shouldn’t, and that it’s not healthy. But since this has all happened to me, there have been many studies out there that say this is not the most effective way to achieve the goals that you need to.
It really does re-energize you to just stop and actually try to clear your mind.
When the physician first told me that I should not multitask anymore, I said, "Do you know who I am? And what it’s like to be a working mom of a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old?" And she was a mom so she said, "Yeah, I do." She said there has to be a way to figure out how to do it.
I unfortunately had to do it because it was part of my recovery process from surviving a ruptured brain aneurysm. Part of my therapy was to regain the ability to focus and to concentrate and do these things. So, I had to focus on one thing at a time. Now I’m much, much better. I kind of trained myself to just focus on that task at hand.
At work, if I have several projects that are expected of me or that I’d like to do over a period of time, I try to space them out. I try to really focus on what I need to deliver immediately and really put my full attention there until it’s completed, and then move on to the next thing. I don’t try to start several things at the same time, if I can help it.
I think it’s important to take a breath between tasks — if that means getting up, taking a walk for two minutes, five minutes, and going to sit somewhere even if it’s in your office. You know, put the lights off, if you can. Hold the calls for five minutes. It really does re-energize you to just stop and actually try to clear your mind for two to five minutes.
When I first came back to work one of the things I would do is put myself in a conference room that was empty and shut the doors and just be there. I’ve found a couple apps that help me. One’s called Insight Timer — it’s a meditation app. I also put calendar reminders in my phone to remind me to meditate or take a break. to eat lunch or go to bed by a certain time.
It’s very difficult but I think your brain will thank you. And when you start back up again, you have more energy.
Because I focus on personal finance and I’m doing a lot of feature stories, unlike a lot of my colleagues, I’m able to plan ahead with some of my stories. Therefore, I’m able to put in my calendar when I’m going to do the reporting, the editing, the producing. This is when I’m going to put the piece together. This is when we’re going to be on air.
I also know my limitations now. They’re due in part to the fact that I had a major medical issue. But I’m now prioritizing being able to enjoy what I’m doing in the moment.
Follow Epperson at @sharon_epperson.