Reduce Overwhelm and Boost Productivity. Why You Need to Start Single Tasking Today
Research shows that multitasking is a myth, and could be hurting your productivity, your business, and your brain. If you have been out to coffee with a girlfriend in the last decade, there is a good chance you have experienced something that goes a little like this… You are mid-way through a long overdue conversation when her phone buzzes on the table. She glances down at it, deciding whether to answer or not, and declines the call. Looking back to you she apologises and scans her brain trying to find the words she had lost during the short distraction… ‘hmmm what was I saying again’? In this case, your friend probably takes a few seconds to regain her train of thought and continues where she left off. No harm done right? Sure. But what if it happened in a business meeting, or during a networking event? Dividing your attention when you are communicating is a little disrespectful and can impact both working and personal relationships. Giving someone your full attention is a really powerful way to build trust and rapport, I highly recommend trying your best to do this. When we repeatedly interrupt our train of thought throughout a working day, our productivity can also be severely impacted. What we have come to know as multitasking, is in fact our brain switching between several single tasks repeatedly. While it may feel as though we are ‘killing two birds with one stone’ we are actually not giving any of the things on our to do list 100% of our attention. When our brains have to shift between tasks, it takes a certain amount of time to make that shift which can lead to up to 40% reduction in productivity . Obviously, the complexity of what we are doing affects how well (or not well) we can multitask. Walking and listening to a podcast = pretty easy. Driving and writing a text message = not so good. A good way to think about it is to only ever combine two tasks that require minimal mental strain. If you are responding to emails, texting your friend about drinks tonight and trying to finish that proposal all at once, you are probably losing a lot of time. Not only that, but you risk ending your day exhausted and overwhelmed due to how busy it felt. Cambridge Online Dictionary defines multitasking as: “ a person’s ability to do more than one thing at a time”. Directly under that definition is the example sentence: “Women are often very good at multitasking”. It is no wonder that for as long as women have been conquering the professional world, we have been told that ‘multitasking’ is the most efficient way to be productive. In fact, for many of us the ability to juggle multiple balls in the air at once has been a hallmark of success and something we have been told we should be proud of. While fempreneurs will inevitably have several things to consider at any point in a day, research suggests that for the vast majority of us, 98% to be exact, true multitasking is practically impossible. Unless you happen to be in the 2% known as ‘supertaskers’ chances are that trying to switch between tasks means not doing a single one of them well, if at all. So, if multitasking isn’t all it is cracked up to be, how can we be more productive, feel less overwhelmed and take back some of our precious time? The answer is in single tasking. As the name suggests, single tasking means focusing on one thing at a time and giving it 100% of your attention. Even right now as you read this blog, you probably have other browsers open or maybe you just heard the kettle boiling and you will stop reading for a moment to make a coffee (please don’t, this next part is important). It is actually extremely rare that we give whatever we are doing our undivided attention; but doing so can make the world of difference to our productivity. Here are my top 5 tips to help you master the art of single tasking: 1. Practice mindfulness: We have all heard how powerful mindfulness can be for our wellbeing and happiness, however practicing mindfulness can also be a powerful tool for improving productivity. As mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and engaged in the moment, it stands to reason that honing this skill will help to stay focused on a single task without getting distracted. For some practical tips about how to be a mindful entrepreneur, stay connected with me as I will be writing an article about it very soon. 2. Eliminate distractions: Going back to our original example of two friends having coffee only to be interrupted by a phone call, it is pretty obvious that when we become distracted, we are not 100% committed to the task at hand. Some simple but effective tips for reducing interruptions are: Set your devices to aeroplane mode or turn them off. Anything that might turn your mind away from your task for even a couple of seconds can send you down the rabbit hole of procrastination and distraction. One glance at your phone, leads to looking at facebook, leads to searching online for that pair of shoes you saw on sale last week. It is a trap, don’t fall into it. If you find yourself looking at your phone out of habit even when it is set to aeroplane mode, then put your phone in another room entirely. If you are in an office environment, tell your colleagues that you are focusing on something and you don’t want to be interrupted. The same goes if you are working at home and you have other people in the house. Close the door to your workspace. Put a sign on it if that is what it takes to remain uninterrupted. Noise cancelling headphones can be really helpful if your environment is loud and distracting. I actually use them even when noise isn’t an issue as they remind me that I am meant to be focusing. 3. Set alarms for switching tasks: I recently listened to a podcast that discussed the power of setting alarms on your phone to help you switch more smoothly between being at work to being with your family. It stuck with me and I have been doing my own version of this for some time now. As I write this blog post, I know that at some point an alarm will go off on my phone (alarms will override Do Not Disturb), and that I will then have a 5-minute buffer zone to finish putting any immediate thoughts down on paper before it is time to switch to a new task. These alarms act as mini deadlines and allow me to break down an overwhelming task into more manageable chunks. I know when I sit down to write, I have one hour to be as productive as I can be — then I press save and move on to the next alarmed task and so on. Of course, if I am ‘in the zone’, I can silence the alarm and keep going, but I rarely will. The problem is that if I don’t set myself a mini deadline, I risk taking hours or even days to complete one task while everything else piles up. Mini deadlines can work really well. Give it a try. 4. Practice daily rituals/routines: How many times a day do you find yourself sitting at your desk debating whether you should get up and stretch your legs, make a coffee, call your mum? For most of us, the daily acts of basic self-care that fill our cup can show up as wonderful reasons to avoid tackling an urgent task on our to do list. If you work from home then this is extra hard, and I can attest to that. By practicing daily rituals and routines, you train your brain to compartmentalise your work time and your personal time. Try setting those alarms we talked about for things like coffee, stretching, fresh air etc as well. This will mean you know that there is an allocated time in your day for the things that fill your cup, and you will be less preoccupied by them while you are trying to focus on your business. 5. Start with the thing you least want to do. Brian Tracy calls this ‘eating the frog’ . Sounds a bit weird I know but stay with me. Eating the frog means doing the least tempting thing on your to-do list first thing in the morning so that the rest of the day feels like a win! When we busy ourselves with trivial tasks and admin it is actually a sneaky way to avoid doing the one thing that needs to get done in order to make the sale, close the deal, launch your product. NYT best selling book ‘The One Thing’ is about figuring out what the most important thing on your list actually is. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend taking a look. The truth is that the tasks you avoid in your business are the ones that are very important to grow your profit. For most people, these tasks are related to sales. I wrote about this in detail in my blog post ‘The Magic is in What you are Avoiding ’. So, swallow the frog and do the task that you are avoiding first. You will feel so good afterward, that your list of things to do will feel like a breeze. Love It? Pin This Article for Later.