Out with multitasking
Multitasking has previously been thought of as a “skill” to highlight in an interview or on a resumé. It is simply the act of doing multiple tasks at the same time, switching from one task to another and back again, or performing two tasks back to back (very quickly). In today’s world, it may seem like this is the only way to achieve everything on your to-do list. However, we are seeing a trend toward single-tasking, and there are good reasons for it. Diverting your attention to multiple tasks may actually reduce your productivity, rather than increase it. According to the American Psychological Association, those who multitask take 40% more time to complete the same tasks than those who work through them one by one. Additionally, most of us are actually task-switching rather than multitasking meaning that we are not truly getting two things done at once. Thus, if your goal is to be more productive, single-tasking is the new multitasking.
Why isn’t multi-tasking faster?
Without getting too science-y and diving into the field of psychology, the essence is that multitasking requires us to switch back and forth between different tasks. This leads to an increased cognitive load resulting in mental fatigue, mistakes, and stress. By focusing on one task at a time, or single-tasking, we reduce the number of inputs the brain has to process. This provides an increased capacity to understand and execute resulting in increased productivity.
Cognitive benefits of single-tasking
Single-tasking requires you to give your full attention to the task at hand, without trying to do anything else at the same time. For example, reading and answering one Slack message without stopping to send a text message or read an email. In addition to improving your productivity, focusing on one task means you are more mindful and present in the moment. When you give your full attention to a single task, you can be more engaged and focused, which can lead to better quality work, increased satisfaction, improved focus, and better memory.
Overall, the importance of focusing during multitasking lies in its ability to improve productivity, reduce stress, and enhance the quality of your work. By focusing on one task at a time, you can be more effective and efficient in your multitasking and can enjoy the benefits of a more mindful and present approach to work.
How to start single-tasking
So you understand the importance of single-tasking, but how do you get started? You may have been multi-tasking for a very long time, and like any other habit, it takes intentional effort to break the pattern.
Here are proposed steps and tips to getting started with single-tasking:
- Identify the task that you need to focus on: Get clear on what you need to do so you can stay focused on it.
- Eliminate distractions: This may require you to close your email, silence your phone, or find a quiet place to work.
- Set a specific time for working on the task: This can help you to focus and avoid getting sidetracked.
- Break the task down into smaller, more manageable steps: This can make the task feel less overwhelming and can help you to stay focused.
- Use a timer to keep yourself on track: This can help you stay focused for a specific amount of time, and can also help you to avoid getting lost in the task.
- Take regular breaks to rest and recharge: This can help you to avoid mental fatigue and maintain your focus.
- Stay positive and avoid getting discouraged: If you find yourself getting distracted or losing focus, take a deep breath and remind yourself of why you are working on the task. Remember that single-tasking is a new habit that you are trying to form!
Focusing on a single task requires a combination of eliminating distractions, setting a specific time for the task, breaking the task down into smaller steps, using a timer, taking regular breaks, and staying positive. By following these tips, you can improve your ability to focus and get more done.
If you want to be more productive at work and in life, consider becoming a single-tasker!
Director of Corporate Development
Sam is a seasoned training professional at Jarvis Consulting Group. He is passionate about coaching and talent development as well as emerging technologies.
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Jarvis is a leading IT consulting firm headquartered in Canada that provides total talent solutions with ongoing partnerships across North America’s top financial institutions, cutting-edge startups, and major technology companies.
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