I just killed 6 of my tabs. When I launched this browser and began writing this post I had just this one tab open. Then I wanted to do a little research and see what others are saying about the issue. That one browser tab then doubled to two then three then four… until I had a total of 7 tabs open!
Sometimes I suck at single-tasking.
It’s hard. Like really, really hard. After all, ours brains have now been conditioned, we think, to do more than one task at a time. It just feels good. We feel productive. We think we are getting more done.
The Myth of Multi-Tasking
One study published a few years ago showed that students who were distracted from a task for 3 seconds made twice as many mistakes when they returned to the task. Those that were distracted for 5 seconds, made 4 times as many errors!
We know that our brains are not really good at this so-called multi-tasking, yet we continue to do it. Why? Because it feels good.
Another study tracked the media use of a couple hundred students and showed that many of them read books while watching TV. What the study revealed, however, was that those who attempted to do so actually performed worse in both tasks… but they felt like they were accomplishing more.
That’s right. They sucked at studying AND watching TV, but they felt better about it!
Multi-tasking seems to be becoming our drug of choice, and we feed into it in subtle ways. Multiple tabs is just one example, but you can also include our e-mail and social media notifications. One study found that office employees checked their inboxes up to 30 times per hour. That’s once every two minutes!
What is Single-Tasking?
Just as it sounds, single-tasking means doing just one thing at a time and focusing all of our attention on it. It requires precision and focus, and a lot of practice. I have seen a dramatic shift in my productivity when I am being mindful of the task at hand and only working on one thing at a time.
It is so, so easy to get sucked back into multi-tasking; it’s a little ridiculous. Remember just a few minutes ago when I had 7 tabs open? And I’m literally writing an article about doing one thing at a time! If I had let it continue, it’s likely that a few of those tabs would have gone through some sort of wormhole and wound up on YouTube.
Even now, I’m thinking that maybe I should add some links to the text in order to give it more credibility. CTRL+T is not my friend right now. I have decided not to include links in this article for one reason: I want you to focus on this task at-hand. Read this article without distraction. Can you do it? Can you make it to the end? Let me know in the comments section below.
Benefits of Single-Tasking
The main benefit of single-tasking is that you will actually get more done. It sounds a bit contradictory, but it’s true. Focusing your attention on one task at a time helps to eliminate error. Think of the old adage ‘measure twice, cut once.’
Single-tasking is having laser focus on one task and performing it to the best of your ability. Self disclosure time: I love Raising Cane’s. In fact, I used to work there. Their philosophy is to un-apologetically do ONE thing and do it better than anyone else. The idea worked, and the company has seen tremendous growth year after year.
By reducing or eliminating distraction, the results speak for themselves.
Tips for Single-Tasking
- Reduce clutter- whether it’s physical or digital, clutter can cause distraction. Clean your desk. Clean your desktop. Close your browser tabs.
- Turn off things you know will lead to distraction such as your phone or your desktop notifications. There will be time to address these later. If it’s not on fire, it can wait.
- Make a To-Do list. Every night or every morning set aside time to write down the things you want or need to accomplish. Prioritize the list with the first task being the most crucial, the thing you have to get done, or that the other items on your list rely upon. Cross off everything after the third item. You’re not going to get everything done today. The good news is that you don’t have to.
- Start small and build up from there. It’s really hard to do anything new at first. Start by focusing on just one thing for 30 minutes. In fact, set yourself a timer. When the timer goes off, take a short break to evaluate your progress. If you feel like you have some momentum, return to the task for another 30 minutes or until it’s complete. If you feel burnt out or like you have hit a wall, take a breather. Rest for 5-10 minutes then return to the task with fresh eyes.
I love the quote by Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation:
“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”