Multitasking is second nature to human beings. It seems there’s always something pushing us to do multiple things at a time, despite knowing that single-tasking makes us more efficient.
Consider this study, where 200 participants were tested in a high-fidelity driving simulator in both single- and dual-task conditions. Just 2.5 percent of people were brilliant at dual-tasking with no drop in performance.
You know what that means: 97.5 percent of people cannot multitask effectively!
Sadly, multitasking has a way of creeping into everything we do, no matter how much we try to fight it. Our brains just can’t focus on one task for long without wandering.
In this guide, we tell you why single tasking makes you more efficient and share insightful ways to train yourself to focus on one task at a time.
12 Fabulous Ways to Start Single-Tasking
Are you addicted to browser tabs? Well, who isn’t?
For some reason, it seems impossible to maintain your browsing sessions to one tab. The internet is riddled with distractions, and the more tabs you have open, the easier it is to stray from work.
Single-tabbing is an effective method that can help you stay on task. But it’s not going to be easy. Luckily, you can take advantage of an app like xTab, that limits the number of tabs you open.
Implement a Personal Kanban
Even with effective task management, it’s still difficult to just stick to one task at a time. But all that can change with a Kanban project management system that ensures you only work on one task at a go.
Kanban is offered by various project management tools like Trello, Jira, Kanbanflow, and Asana. With Trello, you can create three columns: To-Do, Doing, and Done. List all the tasks you plan to work on in order of priority and move the most important tasks to the ‘Doing’ column.
For this method to work, limit the number of tasks on your ‘Doing’ column to only two. That way, you won’t have a lot on your plate, making it easier to focus on the tasks at hand.
Alternatively, you can use sticky notes or Kanban boards to highlight the important task that you must accomplish.
Switch Off Your Phone
Smartphones can be useful, but they are the leading source of distractions. Just one notification from your social media account is enough to take away all your attention from the current task.
This can lead to procrastination, and eventually, less work done. So, put your phone on silent and keep it out of sight. Alternatively, turn off all irrelevant notifications on your phone to minimize distractions.
Declutter Your Workspace
The less the clutter around you, the better your focus. And we are not just talking about an untidy desk, a cluttered desktop can be distracting too. When you can’t find a specific document, you start getting frustrated, and this can affect your focus.
A clean workspace makes it easier to concentrate on work since there are no unnecessary things to distract you.
Set Aside Time to Check Emails and Social Media
A 2019 Adobe Email Usage Study reported that 11 percent of people constantly check their emails throughout the day. The survey also shared some interesting findings: People spend three hours checking work emails and two hours checking personal emails.
They do this at varying times and in different places:
And the worst part is that it takes almost 24 minutes to refocus after a distraction.
The most effective way to monotask is to avoid task-switching when you’re working. So, pick a time of day during low-energy parts of your workday, and dedicate it to low-value tasks. These could range from reading and responding to emails to checking social media and chat notifications on Slack, among other things.
Tools like Freedom, StayFocusd, and Limit block distracting websites, allowing you to perfect your single-tasking strategies.
Chunk and Batch Tasks
Another effective strategy to help you start single-tasking is to break down a project into smaller tasks and then batch similar tasks together. You then start doing one task at a time.
- You work faster
- You transition smoother from task to task after completing each
- You get more work done
Remember, despite the belief that multitasking makes you more effective, the opposite is true. Researchers at Stanford discovered that frequent multitaskers performed poorly on simple memory tasks.
Work with a Timer
Block out chunks of time for deep-focused work. Doing so motivates you to focus on a task uninterrupted. At first, it won’t be easy to keep your attention on one thing for an extended period.
So, start with a shorter block of time (like five minutes) in which you’ll work on a task and slowly increase that time. Use a time tracker like Traqq to monitor this time and keep yourself accountable. Once you get the hang of it, you can try a time management technique like the Pomodoro method.
Here’s how it works:
You limit your time to one task for 25 minutes and then take a short 5-minute break before getting back to it again or shifting to another task. After a few sessions, you start taking longer breaks of around 20 minutes.
This technique is effective because it helps you limit distractions, plan your workday more effectively and enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishments after each Pomodoro session.
In the end, you’ll benefit from the increased engagement made possible through shorter bursts of work.
Allow Yourself to Take Meaningful Breaks Between Single-Tasking Sessions
The Pomodoro technique will teach you to take breaks throughout the day. This is crucial since concentration decreases the longer you work. If you don’t rest, you won’t be able to accomplish your goals or will end up feeling like you could have done better.
To ensure consistent productivity, take regular breaks from work. Use the breaks to stretch, take a walk in the park, do some quick squats or jumping jacks, or anything else that makes you happy.
Set Unrealistically Short Deadlines
It’s often advocated to set realistic deadlines that allow us more time to complete tasks. But what if we did the opposite and set unrealistic deadlines? According to a Harvard Business review, setting deadlines that are a third of the time shorter forces you to focus more on the task at hand.
In the end, you work faster and become more productive.
Write Down Thoughts and Ideas
Most of the time, it’s inevitable for distracting thoughts and ideas to cross your mind even when you’re single-tasking. This calls for greater work discipline, especially for remote workers who have flexible schedules.
So, the next time a fantastic idea pops in your head, don’t allow your session to be interrupted. Instead, take a pen and paper and write it down. That way, you can come back to it later, when you’re done focusing on the important task.
Does your mind wander away every time you’re trying to focus on that one task? Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. One effective strategy is to practice mindfulness. According to Psychology Today, “mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present.”
In other words, it’s to live in the moment and be aware of your surroundings, which is a great tool when trying to stay focused. When you’re mindful, it’s easy to recognize when your attention is starting to drift, and you can quickly bring your focus back to that task.
There are several ways to train yourself to be mindful. This includes practicing:
- mindful movements like yoga, and
- breathing techniques
Find a System that Works for You
Studies suggest that having a to-do list can boost productivity. But on the flip side, three out of five people admit to having more on their to-do list than they can accomplish. According to the survey, people tend to habitually overcommit only to be overwhelmed.
To avoid falling into this “over-commitment epidemic” as the researchers call it, create a schedule that limits multitasking and promotes single-tasking. A daily schedule offers an excellent system that ensures you stick to doing one thing at a time.
Be sure to incorporate breaks and time for distractions into your schedule so that your day is completely planned for. For instance, you can set 3-4 PM for checking your Facebook, Instagram, and other non-work stuff. That way, you won’t have to ruin the time dedicated to deep focus work.
Why Do We Multitask?
Did you know that when you multitask, you’re switching between two sides of your brain’s prefrontal cortex? This is the part of your mind (located at the front of your brain) that’s activated when you focus your attention on something.
When you multitask, the left and right sides of the prefrontal cortex work independently, slowing down your efficiency. You end up taking up to 40 percent longer to complete the same tasks than if you tackled them individually.
So, why are we so hell-bent on spreading our attention thin despite knowing that we are only making things hard for our brains? We can blame it on the society we live in, where we are taught that multitasking is a skill. It’s something employers expect to see in their employees, and you can even see it listed as a job requirement.
But, according to studies, heavy multitaskers are less competent at getting more work done than light multitaskers. Multitasking disrupts our focus and attention, overloads the brain, and can even be detrimental to our mental and physical health.
So, what’s the alternative? Single-tasking. Well, it’s easier said than done. Just the thought of it is scary, and most people are horrible at it. But with practice, you can master doing one thing at a time, and you’ll realize just how amazing you become at everything you do.
Why You Should Focus on One Task at a Time
To truly understand why you should stop multitasking, here are the top benefits of single-tasking:
- Single-tasking boosts productivity. When you only have one task in front of you, with no distractions, you can do more meaningful work.
- Single-tasking boosts creativity. When you train your brain to only focus on the task at hand, you tap into parts of your brain associated with deep thinking. This makes you more creative, which can boost your performance.
- Single-tasking promotes self-discipline. The more you practice self-tasking, the more you take control of your time and actions. You won’t be doing things just for the sake of it but will be mindful of where you are and what you’re doing.
- Single-tasking reduces stress. Instead of checking emails, doing your makeup, and trying to create a playlist to listen to in traffic, all while driving, just wake up 15 minutes early to do all that in peace. No need to be stressed over things you can control.
- Single-tasking boosts our attention span. If you struggle with a shorter attention span, practicing single-tasking can be good for you. The ability to pay attention means you can achieve more at work, are keen on details, and make fewer mistakes.
When Single-Tasking Is Not Ideal
So, does single-tasking have a bad side? Well, like anything in life, everything has a good and bad side. As for single-tasking, here are a few negatives you should know:
- Single-tasking leads to poor adaptability. If you have a schedule that is so tight that it only allows you to concentrate on one task at a time, you may have a hard time adjusting to changes in your routine. Work is always changing, and the ability to adapt to new situations is valuable.
- Poor leadership. Imagine a boss who can only perform one thing at a time in a firm. This can lead to delays, unproductive departments, and unhappy clients. Typically, a CEO or business owner must juggle several situations at once, and therefore, must multitask to meet these challenges.
|Improved focus||Low focus|
|Improved productivity||Lower productivity|
|Less Stress||Increased stress|
|Improved creativity||Scattered thinking = less creativity|
|Improved attention span||No time to hone attention|
Do One Thing at a Time and Achieve More
We end this post with food for thought:
It’s your unlimited desires that are clouding your ability to achieve success and happiness. We are not against having desires, just focus on the ONE thing you should do and let go of the things you could do.
Remember, multitasking is a productivity killer. While single-tasking takes discipline and effort, it can positively transform your personal and professional life.