This article has been on my mind since I read it last month. It’s titled Discovering the Joy of Single-Tasking, from my longtime favorite blog Cup of Jo. I can’t get it out of my head. In our unfortunate culture of busy-ness, single-tasking is a revolutionary suggestion. Imagine devoting your full focus and dedication to each task at hand. Maybe you guys can relate.. I am constantly running around frazzled, working on several tasks at once, repetitively checking my phone and accomplishing half of each project before abandoning it for something else. Multi-tasking makes it seem like I am getting a lot accomplished, but really I am just wasting time jumping from task to task and needlessly stressing myself out. Studies have shown single-tasking is a healthier, more productive and all around better practice.
Leo Babauta writes in Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction,
Multi-tasking is less efficient, due to the need to switch gears for each new task, and the switch back again.
Multi-tasking is more complicated, and thus more prone to stress and errors.
Multi-tasking can be crazy, and in this already chaotic world, we need to reign in the terror and find a little oasis of sanity and calm.
Our brains can really only handle one thing at a time, and so we get so used to switching between one thing and another with our brains that we program them to have a short attention span. This is why it’s so hard to learn to focus on one thing at a time again.
Since this bad habit is obviously not doing us any favors, I have resolved to make some changes.
- Choose your task wisely according to your daily priorities.
- Be present in each task.
- Be on the lookout for and minimize distractions before starting each task.
- Re-center and re-focus when you get distracted.
- Practice makes perfect.
While I could just resolve to cut multitasking out of my life entirely, I have found the most successful lasting changes are made gradually and specifically. Here are some ideas I had to emphasize single-tasking over multi-tasking in my life:
Optimizing Technology for Single-Tasking
- Turn off notifications
- Leave phone on silent
- Disable phone data unless necessary for task at hand
- Close apps/programs that don’t pertain to the task at hand
- Clear away digital clutter
- Remove nonessential apps from your home screen
- Limit your number of tabs, apps, or windows opened at one time
- Set technology free times, such as when waking up or going to bed
- Rather than checking your phone for the time, wear a watch
Single-Tasking at Home
- Designate days of the week to complete certain chores, rather than trying to do every chore every night.
- Rather than storing your phone in your pocket, determine a spot in your house to keep it. That way you won’t be tempted to browse social media or play games while working on other tasks.
- Schedule a night to spend relaxing.
- Give yourself enough time to complete tasks to avoid rushing around. Rather than try to complete many tasks at once, dedicate your time to those that are most important.
- Develop a routine for getting ready each morning so you can focus on one task at a time in an itemized fashion.
- Prepare for tomorrow the night before by prioritizing your to-do list, packing your bag and setting out clothes.
- Ditch electronics 1-2 hours before bed time to unplug and escape harmful blue light.
Single-Tasking at Work
- Only open and respond to emails at certain times, leaving the window closed otherwise.
- Schedule responsibilities each day, ensuring time to finish one task before starting another.
- Organize work into groups with the same process or into a priority level system to help efficiently meet required deadlines.
- Wind down your work day half an hour or so before you plan to leave the office, to avoid a last minute scramble.
- Put the window you are working with on full screen to help keep on task.
Single-Tasking when Out and About
- Leave your phone in the car or put it on airplane mode when out with friends/family.
- Have an itinerary planned for your trip out, rather than driving around at random
- Instead of trying to go out multiple places or bar hop, hang out at just one. Try their food and drink and really get a well-rounded experience at that establishment.
- If you have multiple invitations on a given night, prioritize your plans to attend one event rather than bouncing around.
I realize that a lot of this article could be simplified by screaming “Turn off your phone!” It’s no secret that technology, and the smartphone in particular, has taken over our lives. There are so many distracting functions to be mindful of. Who is with me in resolving to take a step away?