Multi-tasking vs Single-tasking

We often hear people telling us how good they are at multi-tasking. Guess what? They’re wrong.

It is not possible to multi-task and be efficient and productive. When you are in a multi-tasking mindset you:

  • Constantly switch your mind from one thing to another, causing increased cognitive load
  • Stop thinking ideas through completely. You start with an idea then switch to another task and lose your thoughts
  • Get distracted
  • Waste time by having to refresh your mind with details of each task

 

Why Do People Multi-Task?

Todays society expects us to do more with our time. Information is within easy reach. Data comes from all over the world via the Internet.

We have electronic devices that are blasting us with notifications, demanding our attention. We have phones everywhere we go. People consider us rude if we do not immediately respond. We work in open-plan offices, where people can walk up to us at any time.

With all these distractions we have become accustomed to constant interruptions. These disrupt the flow of our work.

In modern work, which is very much knowledge-based, we often have many projects running at once. Each of these have deadlines, which are often very close together. We feel the need to switch between them to make sure they are moving forward. It is not unusual to switch between projects every 15 – 30 minutes. We end up revisiting the same project multiple times in one day.

This is all inefficient. We need to change the way we do things.

 

What is Single-Tasking?

The idea with single-tasking is to reduce the extra load. When you single-task you start a piece of work and then you process it until you can go no further. You do not watch the clock. No setting of arbitrary limits. You keep going until the work is finished.

To do this you need to make some changes to the way you react to things.

 

How Can I Stop Multi-Tasking?

You need to spend time to change your mindset. You need to change from being a reactive person to being a proactive person.

This includes steps like:

  • Turn off notifications on your electronic devices, including
    • email notifications
    • message notifications
    • Social Media alerts, no more having them tell you what your best friends uncle had for breakfast
  • Put your phone on silent.  If it’s important they’ll leave you a message
  • Can you go and work in a quiet space?
  • If you need to work in an open-plan area try and stop people from coming up to you. You will get people that think you are being rude, don’t worry about this as you are there to work not socialise. Some strategies for this include:
    • put earphones in/headphones on. But do not play anything. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who think your
    • listening to something and won’t disturb you
    • put up a sign asking not to be disturbed
    • tell people who speak to you that you are busy and will get back to them

 

How Will This Benefit Me?

The benefits of single-tasking include the following.

Reduce stress and “brain ache”

Constant switching of tasks means you need to keep all the details for everything in your head. Single tasking means you only concentrate on what is important for the current task. This reduces stress on your brain.

Get More Done

Switching between tasks means you need to spend time:

  • recording your progress
  • closing down files
  • locating the new projects files
  • reading where you were
  • thinking about what next

This takes time. It takes mental energy. It disturbs your flow.

Once you are single-tasking you remove all these. This gives you more time!

When single-tasking you are able to concentrate on the project. You can think through in detail what needs to happen. You increase your productivity!

Complete Work Faster

This is like Get More Done. It is such an important benefit, and often not fully appreciated. When you single-task you complete your work faster. You deliver better results. You become more productive!

 

Summary

Multi-tasking is inefficient. Society expects us to multi-task. We need to push back against this.

When we work in a single-tasking mode we become more productive. You will complete your work faster, and often with improved quality.

We need to take the time to change our way of working. We need to get rid of unnecessary distractions. This includes device notifications and phone calls and unnecessary desk drop-ins. Concentrating on one piece of work allows you to reduce the extra load on your mind. It also reduces lost time taken to switch between tasks.

 

If you need help to switch to a Single-Tasking way of working then please email Garry at garry@nextactions.com.au or visit nextactions.com.au

 

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Also published on Medium.