4 ways to Single Task to Maximise Productivity

In this article, you will learn how to become a single tasker and enjoy the benefits of single tasking,  through laser focused attention and time, quality of output and the satisfaction of complete one task well.

In today’s busy world, everyone is trying to do more, to achieve more and to produce more, all these things with the limited time that we have.  One of the solutions to this problem is the belief that multi-tasking is the answer.  If we are able to perform multiple tasks at one time, then we must be able to accomplish more.  However, is that true?

The truth is that multitasking is a myth. 

Yes, that’s right, it is a myth and a lie that we have been led to believe.  Studies after studies have indicated that we are not able to multitask.  In Harvard Business Review article “You can’t multitask, So stop trying.” By Paul Atchely, Dec 21, 2010, he states that “multitaskers do less and miss information.  It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email.  Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%.  Long-term memory suffers and creativity – a skill associated with keeping in mind multiple, less common, associations is reduced.  In fact, multi-tasking is really task switching in our brains.  Our brains choose which information to process.” 

Just to add salt to the wound, Jim Kwik in his book Limitless, states that “research repeatedly shows that people who multitask are considerably less productive than those who focus on one task at a time.”  “In fact, multitasking is a grossly inefficient way to get anything done.”

I think that it goes beyond just the productivity or efficiency measurements.  The real enemy behind this myth is that we want to believe that we are more capable and are able to achieve more which ties to our need to be valuable. If we are able to perform multiple task at the same time, then we must be valuable.  Have you ever wondered why when you ask a person who multitask, how they feel about their work, the answer is rarely of one that would indicate a sense of pride in their accomplishments?  I think that deep down they know that their output could be much better if only they were able to give it 100% attention, energy and focus.

If this is so, why then do we still believe that multitasking is a great skill to possess?  Are you in that trap?  If you are, how can you break free from it?

What is single tasking then?

Single tasking is to focus on a single task one at a time.  Single type of work with a clear goal attached to it and with dedicated time set aside to complete it.  Single type of work or “batching” of similar type of work, helps to give you clarity and focus. When you are focusing on completing one task at a time, you are giving that task 100% attention and concentration that it requires, guided by a clear sense of that you want to accomplish and when you have completed it, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  In fact, it is a great feeling to have when you know that you have completed one piece of work that you have set out to do.  You are then able to focus on the next piece of work and the next.

Why we should be single tasking instead?

Now that we know that multitasking is a myth, let’s switch to become a single tasking person. Some of the benefits are the following:

  1. Results:  You are able to achieve a higher level of outcome because you are able to focus and allocate the necessary time and attention to the creation and completion of a specific task or a piece of work.  Work that especially requires great attention to details, decision making as well as problem solving requires our 100% concentration and attention.  Making an error in any of those areas could have potentially damaging consequences. 
  2. Productive:  You are able to achieve more by focusing on completing one task at a time.  As a result you will be more productive.  Imagine a situation where you are trying to juggle 5 items at the same time.  The amount of effort that it would take for your mind to not just remember what they are but to give each one the attention that it requires is almost impossible.  You will either complete one of the tasks well but seldom are you able to complete all of them well at the same time.
  3. Stress:  Reduce your stress level when you are not trying to complete multiple task at the same time.  Your ability to produce good outcomes is proportional to the amount of time and attention that you are able to give it.  The more stress you feel, the less you are allowing your creativity and problem-solving skills to flourish.
  4. Satisfaction:  You will feel a great sense of satisfaction with every task that you are able to complete, knowing that you have completed it well.  You know that you have given each task the necessary focus, concentration, effort, and time.

How to Single Task for optimum productivity?

If you are a person who is single tasking, then it is time to rejoice.  You have been on the path of productivity and efficiency all along.  If you are person who wants to be a multi-tasker, then I would suggest that you stop that ambition and change to be a better single task-oriented person.

There are 4 key categories that you can put into practice to get you going:

  • Eliminate distractions.  Distraction is the number enemy of focus.  The whole idea behind performing a single task at a time is so that we are able to focus on that task at hand.  Distraction causes us to lose that focus.  Research shows that when you are distracted, you will need at least 15 minutes to refocus back to the task that you were performing before the distraction.  Some tips to help you eliminate distractions:
    • Put your phone on silent.
    • Turn off all notifications, whether on your phone, or on the computer.
    • Declutter your workspace.  The less clutter our eyes sees, the less distracted our eyes will be. This will help you to focus and to concentrate on the task at hand.
    • Set up your workspace for work.  Your workspace or area should be designed and set up for optimum work.  As an example, it is hard to focus if your chair is not the right height or is not comfortable.
    • Use the right tools for the job.  It is sometimes easy to overlook the simple things.  For example, if you need to write, ensure that you have pens or pencils and paper at hand.  
  • Allocate the necessary time.  Schedule the required time for each task that you want to do.  No matter how small you might think the task is, you must schedule it in your calendar as it will take time to complete.  You do not want to be faced with time stealers during the day.  The consequence is that by the end of the day, you may be left wondering what happened to the time even though you were single tasking.  There are a few different methods or techniques that you might want to follow:
    • Parkinson’s Law which basically states that the work expands to fill the time allotted.  For example, if you have allocated 2 hours to complete a task, you will complete that task in 2 hours.  If you now only allocate 30 minutes to complete that task, you will complete that task in the time that was allocated.  Therefore, it is important to note that more time does not necessarily mean better completion of work.  It could just mean that you have given yourself too much buffer time.  This buffer time in turn will cause you to not be able to estimate how many task you are able to complete in a day or a time period.  Be a good judge of how much time you would need with each task.  This requires practice and getting to know your work speed and style.  Over time and with observation, you will be able to estimate the time better.
    • Pomodoro technique.  This is a time management method that was developed by Francesco Cirillo which essentially breaks down work into intervals or blocks of time.  The intervals are usually in 25 minutes with 5 minutes break in between the “work” intervals. After 3 interval cycles, you can then have a longer break interval.
  • Align your task with your goals.  There is not shortages of task to be done.  However, not all tasks are necessary, especially when they do not align with your goals.  We all need to be clear on what we are trying to achieve, and it is a must to have clear goals before you begin or accept any task.  If not, it would not matter if you are a single tasking individual, you will be left wondering why you did not accomplish what you had set out to do.  You will be left without a sense of satisfaction as you were not able to achieve your goals.
  • Do not compare.  One of the hidden enemies that aims to steal our focus is comparison.  You compare yourself with someone who might be perceived as a multi-tasker or is able to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time.  That is probably just their style and pace of work.  It is not yours.  You have to be comfortable with your work style and make any necessary adjustments from that point of view and not from someone else’s.  Comparison will rob you out of your satisfaction.

I will also add that there is a place for “multi-tasking” and that is with task that do not require attention to detail.  For example, I am sure that we can brush our teeth and do some squats at the same time.  We can read a book and listen to music at the same time.  Activities that are habitual or have been automatic, does not require our brains to do much processing.  So yes, you can still be a multitasker in those areas.  I would suggest that you use your wisdom to determine appropriately.  What is for certain is, task that requires thought and decision-making outcomes should be given the focus and time to complete.

In summary:

  • Multitasking is a myth.  Our brains do not multitask, they are task switching.
  • Single tasking is required for work that requires attention to details, problem solving, decision making and quality of the output.
  • Single tasking leads to better outcomes and higher levels of productivity.
  • Result of your work is higher in quality and you will get a sense of satisfaction as you complete each task that are aligned to your goals.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope that you have learned at least one thing that you are able to apply into your everyday life.  As always, please subscribe, follow and share this with your friends.  Take care and step into the everyday with purpose. 

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