Tag Archives: single-tasking

Multitasking: 6 Steps to Help You Quit

When you have numerous things to do, the best way to complete them in less time and with greater ease is to single-task. Focusing on one task at a time and diving deeply into each create better outcomes.chess

But competing demands, endless crises, constant interruptions, and ongoing distractions can push you into multitasking (i.e. attending to two or more tasks simultaneously).

Like any ingrained habit, multitasking can be hard to break.

Here are 6 steps to help you quit:

Step #1 – Accept your limits and the limits of multitasking.

You are a limited resource. Your energy and attention-span are limited. Your time is limited to 24 hours in a day. Multitasking has its limits, too.

The human brain allows you to juggle only simple, routine tasks that require little attention or use different channels of mental processing. So you might be able to listen to voicemail while you’re cleaning your desk, but not while you’re responding to email.

Multitasking gives the illusion that you’re attending to several active tasks at once. But the most you can really do is switch quickly from one task to the next (switch-tasking). Or perform a mindless and mundane task in the background while you attend to another (background tasking).

Multitasking doesn’t work for projects that demand high-quality attention, active engagement, complex thought, and creative decision-making.

Once you accept your limits and the drawbacks of multitasking, you will be more inclined to focus on one thing at a time.

Step #2 – Make deliberate choices about your priorities.

All things seem urgent and important when you fail to prioritize. External busyness involves having too much on your agenda. Internal busyness comes from worry and anxiety over unfinished tasks. Instead of trying to get it all done, focus on getting the right things done.

Keep a to-do list that is short, simple and specific. Pick the top three most important tasks that you want to or must complete in the day. Include one meaningful, creative task that will help you reach a long-term goal or make progress on a huge project.

Create a not-to-do list as well. Say no to meaningless tasks that you can avoid, delay or delegate. Shed the things that don’t serve you well and clash with your real to-dos. Don’t agree to every meeting request. Don’t check your email every five minutes. Don’t surf the Web first thing at work.

Step #3 – Block out time to work on your top priorities.

Do your most important tasks or your meaningful, creative tasks first, before the distractions and interruptions pile up. Or schedule appropriate time blocks such as 15, 30, 60 or 90 minutes, when your energy is at its peak, to do them. Designating specific times to focus on your highest priorities will help you screen out your lowest priorities.

Include buffers in your schedule for taking breaks, as well as for accommodating urgent requests or performing administrative duties. When the time block for your top priorities expires (or your energy drops and attention wanes), you can use the white space on your calendar to unwind, perform reactionary work or do routine tasks.

Step #4 – Respond skillfully to urgent requests.  

Reacting quickly to whatever arises at work can provide instant gratification. It feels good to avert a crisis, rescue others, and save the day. But constant firefighting carries long-term costs and consequences. It leaves you with less time to chip away at your important, high-value projects.

When an unexpected, last-minute request comes in, pause and take a breath. Ask yourself whether it’s truly an emergency that you must deal with, right then and there. If it is, get help or describe what else is on your plate. If it’s not, explain why you’re not the best person to handle it or negotiate the due date.

Remind your boss and supervisors about deadlines for other projects and how much time you need to get them done right. Have them make the tough choices and reprioritize for you if you lack the autonomy to do so.

Respond promptly to clients’ urgent requests, but don’t assume you must take immediate action. Describe the next steps and the proposed timeline for delivering the product or service that meets their needs. Demanding clients might just want to blow off steam or explore how much they can push you around. If they truly expect you to drop everything else to satisfy their demands in every situation, consider dropping them.

Step #5 – Set boundaries and push back on interruptions.

Your boss, supervisors, clients and colleagues have their own priorities and agendas, which often conflict with your own. Setting clear expectations and educating others about your work habits and responsibilities will help you minimize interruptions.

Establish boundaries and honor them to ensure that others respect your time. If you need to focus on completing a certain task, close your office door, tell your assistant to hold non-urgent calls, and send an email to key colleagues asking them to connect only on matters that can’t wait.

Push back on interruptions, particularly when you’re working on a major project or you’re up against a deadline. If a colleague stops by your office when you don’t have time to talk, have her send a meeting request or check back with you tomorrow.

Step #6 – Eliminate distractions.  

Emails, IMs, text messages, social media, telephone calls, wi-fi and the like create information overload that can easily distract you from your true priorities. While technology is omnipresent and hard to avoid, unplugging from it at designated times is within reach.

When you need to focus on an important project, silence your cell phone ringer, turn off your email notification, and unplug from the Internet. Respond to telephone messages and emails in batches, once every hour or so. You don’t need to reply to every single telephone call or email as it comes in. Log on to the Internet during a set period, instead of constantly surfing it throughout the day.

Clutter on your desk and in your workspace is also distracting. Keeping piles of files in your field of vision will trigger your multitasking habit. You will spend more time searching for documents, have more trouble focusing, and create stress looking at all the projects and tasks you have yet to do.

Strive to keep your desk clear, except for the one project or task you’re working on in that moment. Maintain a system that allows you to purge, archive and store your files in an organized way, rather than have them grow into a cluttered mess.

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By implementing these 6 steps, you can begin to kick the habit of multitasking and move toward single-tasking. You can start with step #1 or any step that is most practical for you.  They will help you become a focused, single-tasker who gets the right things done in less time and with greater ease.


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Photo by: alvarogd

Multitasking: 6 reasons to quit

In today’s fast-paced, techno-crazed world, multitasking is a highly valued skill. When time is short, performing two or more tasks simultaneously – instead of focusing on just one – seems like the way to go.

Multitasking can make you feel important, give you a sense of control, and reduce the pain of a boring task or difficult activity.

But when it comes to true productivity, multitasking fails.

The human brain is a sequential processor: It cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Multitasking is not possible when (1) at least one of the tasks requires focus or effort to complete, and (2) the tasks involve similar types of brain processing.

As Dave Crenshaw explains in The Myth of Multitasking, the most you can do is “switch tasking” (switch back and forth between two or more tasks) and “background tasking” (do two or more mundane tasks like watch TV while you eat or listen to music while you exercise.)

The ability to juggle multiple projects and priorities is key to sustainable success. But it is not to be confused with being an expert multitasker. Having a predilection to multitask can actually fuel problems for you, your organization, your team, your clients/customers, and the community you serve.

Here are 6 reasons to quit multitasking:

1. It gobbles up your time.

The executive who tries to listen to a client on the telephone, check his emails, and give instructions to his assistant all at once might think he is saving time. But because he cannot process three things simultaneously, his attention to each will fade in and out and he will do all poorly.

You lose time when you switch back and forth from one task to the next. Although it might take only a few seconds to stop one and start another, the wasted time adds up. You also lose momentum on any progress you’ve made on the prior task.

 2.    It heightens stress.

Dealing with multiple things at once can make you feel overwhelmed, frazzled and drained. Switching quickly from one task to another overloads your brain and causes it to slow down. This leaves you with more incomplete tasks, which creates more stress.

3.    It makes you more prone to making mistakes.

Studies show that those who try to multitask not only take 50% longer to finish a task, but also make up to 50% more mistakes. Although multitasking is better suited for routine tasks or familiar activities, it leads to errors in all situations.

In Brain Rules, molecular biologist John Medina explains, “Cell-phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies, slower to return to normal speed after an emergency, and more wild in their ‘following distance’ behind the vehicle in front of them.” He notes that talking on the phone while driving is like driving drunk.

4.    It reduces the quality of your work.

Switching tasks requires your brain to refocus and adjust to new stimuli. Full concentration is difficult when you move rapidly from one thing to the next. So the quality of your work suffers.

5.    It does not allow for deep, creative thinking.

Because multitasking keeps your mind busy, drains your energy, and fuels stress, it interferes with creative, higher-level work. When your time is filled with constant activity, interruptions and distractions, you have fewer opportunities to reflect, generate ideas, and brainstorm solutions.

6.    It impairs communication.

If you’re watching TV, typing, texting or dealing with another task, it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with another person. You cannot process fully what is being said.

A few nights ago, I sat down to watch a TV show with my sister, Trish. A scene that involved two characters engaging in dialogue triggered a memory for her. This led her to start telling me a story about her experience.

Instead of pausing the show or asking Trish to wait until the scene ended, I tried to listen to the two characters and her at the same time. Naturally, I was only able to catch a few words here and there. I didn’t really get what any of them said.

I could have replayed the scene or had Trish repeat her story. But such options are not always available, especially when you’re in a professional setting or when you don’t know the speaker very well.

Diffused attention blocks clear communication and mindful listening, which makes it harder to process new information and build true connections.

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A more effective alternative to multitasking is single-tasking (monotasking). This involves performing tasks sequentially, one at a time, with breaks in between. Focusing on one thing reduces mistakes, lowers stress and increases productivity. Rather than divide your attention among multiple activities and various distractions, you can hone in on your top priorities, one by one.


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Photo by: Collin Key