Beware the Multitasking Myth. Here Is The One Thing You Should Do Instead.
Multitasking is a concept that has gotten a lot of attention when it comes to productivity. The idea that you can perform more than one task at a time and be that much more effective for it sounds appealing at first blush. Who doesn’t want to be able to tackle emails, catch an online class, and text your partner about what’s for dinner all at the same time?
“Wow! What a time-saver!”, you may be thinking.
I hate to break it to you, but in case you haven’t heard…
Multitasking as a productivity hack is a myth. You really aren’t doing all those things at the same time (except for maybe texting and walking at the same time, which has its own perils).
It’s just about impossible to be fully present and engaged with any one thing when you’re attempting to take on many things at the same time.
Your brain only has so much capacity and you’ll discover that only one of your multi-tasks ends up getting the bulk of your attention. So, while you may be sitting in on that online class while tackling your inbox, you’re not likely to remember much of the class content if the emails are your focus. You’ve got to ask yourself, how effective are you really being by taking on multiple projects at the same time?
The American Psychological Association (APA) says the research shows multitasking lowers efficiency and raises risk. Especially when much of what we think of as multitasking is actually “task switching” where we’re really just moving back and forth between two or more tasks in quick succession.
And if you need more scientific proof, the Cleveland Clinic chimes in that research shows only 2.5% of people can effectively multitask. Other research shows that multitasking can even contribute to cognitive decline and make it harder to stay focused longer-term.
But wait, there’s more – Multitasking comes with other challenges, as well.
- Slows you down.
- Creates more stress in your life.
- Leads to an increase in mistakes.
- Robs you of your ability to be fully present.
The bottom line: Multitasking doesn’t make you smarter, quicker, or more effective.
Here’s what you should be doing instead:
Single-Tasking – The art of doing one thing at a time, with increased focus and effectiveness, for higher productivity.
Single-tasking is essentially the opposite of multitasking. It’s where you focus on one task or project at a time, and it allows you to be fully present with that task. We know that single-tasking can improve memory and retention, lower stress, and help you get more done.
Here’s how you can use Single-tasking to master your productivity game by taking on 3 key areas of your workflow.
Do Away with Distractions
Distractions are all around you. From your email inbox to your phone and beyond, there are so many things in your immediate environment that can pull you away from your single-task focus.
Start with a few small steps to narrow in on your key task without distraction:
- Silence your phone and put it out of reach if you can’t resist unconsciously picking it up.
- Turn off notifications on your computer.
- Close out of your email app unless you’re working on email.
- Close all those extra random tabs in your browser and stick to a one-tab limit.
- Keep all the s#*t off your desk – you know, those random papers, post it notes, empty food containers, and clutter.
Practice Ruthless Prioritization
Now that you know you can’t effectively work on everything at once, you’ve got to determine what projects and tasks are the most important.
Ruthless prioritization helps you figure out three things: What has to happen NOW, What has to go in the BACKLOG, and What to GET RID OF.
Use the tips below to become a prioritization pro:
- Put your most important projects first: Decide which projects and tasks will have the most impact and require the most urgency. Put those at the top of your list and give them the most attention.
- Break big projects into snackable tasks: Take on each task one at a time, with singular focus.
- Schedule your tasks – Build a time block into your calendar to focus on one – and only one – task (give yourself between 1 – 2 hours for bigger tasks and take a mental break midway between the start and finish of your time block). Add to your focus by setting an alarm on your phone to signal a 5-minute warning that your time block is coming to an end.
- Build a 5–10-minute downtime break into your day: to help you refocus between tasks. Take a walk, do some stretches, refill your water bottle, or any other quick form of downtime that works for you.
- Schedule email time into your calendar 2-3 times a day: This allows you to manage communications in a way that is focused and thought out, instead of firing off a quick reaction to incoming messages. Try scheduling your email for first thing in the day for urgent requests that come in overnight, midday for replying to the morning’s messages, and end of day to handle the afternoon’s messages.
- Create your own self-imposed deadlines: Unforeseen events happen, and stuff will come up that will interrupt your day every now and then. To stay focused, create your own deadline that lies ahead of the “real” project deadline and put those due dates into your calendar, along with reminders scheduled a day ahead of your due date.
Sharpen Your Focus
Take a holistic approach to building your single-tasking chops by bringing new habits into your daily routine that support your new single-tasking skill set.
The following tips are a great place to start:
- Incorporate meditation into your day: 5-10 minutes is all you need to start training your mind to focus and let go of distracting thoughts.
- When the workday is over, shut it down: Turn off your computer and silence business notifications. The work will still be there waiting for you in the morning.
- Take time to eat mindfully – especially during your workday: Avoid the temptation to scarf down lunch while answering emails or sitting in on a conference call.
- Finish what you start: You know those pesky weekend projects you started but never quite get around to finishing? Pick one and see it through to the end – and don’t start a new one until the first one is done. Single task your home projects just like your single task your workday projects.
The next time you feel like you’re being pulled into a multitasking vortex, avoid the temptation and double down on your new single-tasking habits to really get things done. Your brain's going to thank you for it.
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