The idea of single-tasking has been a hot topic the last few years. That said, I imagine there are few people who do it really well. It takes a lot of effort for me to stay focused on the task at hand. Effort aside, I find those days to be much more enjoyable. The days that I don’t stay on task are much less pleasant since I don’t accomplish much.
What is Single-Tasking?
Single-tasking is the practice of focusing on one task through completion. This requires that you intentionally limit interruptions and ignore distractions. The more you practice single-tasking, the more focused and disciplined you will become.
As I was writing this post, Jer came home from the office. First he had some questions about dinner. Then he wanted to discuss his upcoming travel arrangements. Next his phone rang, then some timers went off. I wrote six sentences during the first 30 minutes he was home. I had to rewrite four of them.
You don’t have to take my word for it. According to researchers at the University of London, multitasking can decrease your IQ more than smoking marijuana. Gloria Mark, a professor at UC Irvine, found that once interrupted, it takes an average of 23.25 minutes to get back on task.
Single-tasking dramatically improves the quality of my work. I have found that my productivity doubles or quadruples on the days I stay ultra-focused. I also enjoy the benefits of reduced stress.
How to Become a Single-Tasking Superstar
The key is to see single-tasking as a muscle that gets stronger the more you practice. It might be difficult to part with those Facebook and email notifications at first. But I guarantee that once you taste the satisfaction of increased productivity, you’ll be hooked. Here are my top tips to take single-tasking to the next level.
Prioritize and Plan
Identify what your top priorities are and dedicate large chunks of time to accomplishing these goals. This can be difficult at times because we have dreams, but we don’t always know the path to get there. Having a deep understanding of what your top priorities are will help you take the first step on that path.
There’s a saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” If you don’t have a plan for which priorities you will work on in the coming year, what do you think you’ll accomplish? If you don’t have a plan for the projects you need to tackle tomorrow, where will you begin? I could write a book about planning, but I will leave you with this.
- Identify your top three priorities.
- Create a plan and deadline for all three.
I touch on my personal planning tactics in this post. I might be worth expanding in a future post. What do you think?
This might be my favorite tip. I love it so much that I worked it into a post about Working Naked.
When you first disengage distractions in our hyper-connected society, it’s important to communicate what you are doing and why. If you go on a Facebook fast without a formal announcement, you may have some resentment to deal with. If you’re setting up a schedule for responding to email, you may want to run it by your boss.
Tips for Disengaging Distractions
- Turn off the ringer on your phone.
- Flip your cell phone over so you can’t see the screen.
- Disable phone notifications for email, Facebook, etc.
- Turn off the email application on your computer.
- Disable your messaging app.
- Log out of all social media accounts.
- Close all tabs and programs that don’t apply to your designated task.
- Do not open any of these until you have finished your task.
Depending on your level of self-control, you may need to be more extreme. Go ahead and power off your cell phone or disable the internet if needed.
Work in an Environment That Encourages Focus
This is really important yet many people are working in environments that don’t suit them. I need peace and quiet to work. I must work from home or in a closed office.
I have worked with people who need the accountability and support of a supervisor. Working from home isn’t a good match for them.
Others thrive and are most creative when working in a busy office. The key is to figure out which environment encourages your best work and then spend most of your time there.
Mind the Time
I have found that keeping track of my time helps me stay on task. In addition, it helps to identify activities in which the effort is not equivalent to the rewards.
There are a number of ways to mind your time. I like to make a note of the time I start and finish a project in Evernote. When I plan my week, I plan how many hours I will spend on each action item. From time to time I use timers to measure the time spent on a task. And when testing new concepts, I use a stopwatch.
Pay attention to how you work. Understand when you are most creative. Notice what gets you off task. When you fall off of the single-tasking wagon, figure out why. Then put systems in place to prevent you from tripping up.
Multitasking is no longer the badge of honor it once was. I actually consider it a weakness. Will you join me in making single-tasking the new norm?
Do you consider yourself a multitasker or a single-tasker?
If you are a multitasker, what has prevented you from single-tasking?
Single-taskers, how have you most benefited from single-tasking?
Share in the comments below.