Doing one thing at a time is an excellent way to improve your productivity. As a former believer in multitasking, I know how difficult it is to let go of the idea of multitasking; to do so feels counter-intuitive. I was raised with the idea that multitasking is the most productive way of working and what is more, it’s cool. Multitasking can certainly give us the sensation that we’re getting a lot done – an agreeable feeling of feeling busy, even of feeling important. However, studies invariably show that the reverse is true; when we multitask we tend to be less efficient.
The myth of multitasking
It is physically impossible to multitask; we can only focus our attention on one task at a time. When we multitask we move our attention quickly between one task and another. This means our attention is spread thin and we cannot deepen our experience or understanding of a situation; we enter autopilot mode; we become less sensitive to context, more rigid in our response. Putting it bluntly, our work is more likely to be mediocre and uninspired.
Single tasking is, as the name suggests, the opposite of multitasking. Initially, it can feel more difficult, perhaps not as stimulating but it is better in virtually every way than multitasking. Single-tasking allows us to dedicate more time, energy and attention to our work in the present moment. It allows us to think more deeply, create more connections. We become more creative and our work feels more meaningful.
My most productive and creative times are those times I single task, spending a long time on a single project. I don’t get that “wow, look how busy I am” buzz but I do feel a deeper sense of connection, meaning and satisfaction.
In these times of myriad distractions constantly trying to steal our attention it seems that everything is designed to diminish our capacity for concentration. It seems to me that, although we have an attention muscle, technology and the accelerated pace of life means our attention/concentration muscle is becoming ever more atrophied. Single tasking is, in some ways, just like gym for the mind; the more you practice, the stronger and more useful becomes the mental muscle.
Why not give single-tasking a try? For one week – one thing at a time. Don’t be too ambitious. Set you mobile timer to blocs of 15/20 minutes. When you come to the end of each bloc, stop and contemplate how much you achieved in those 15/20 minutes. You will be pleasantly surprised.
It is easy to confuse accomplishment with “busyness”. Doing one thing at a time is simply the best way to accomplish more in less time.