Multi-tasking gives the illusion of getting many things done simultaneously yet focusing on one task at a time yields greater results. There’s a satisfaction that comes with seeing one task through to completion before moving on to another task.
The reason why focusing on one task (or single tasking) works is because you spend more time doing and less time trying to refocus. Each time we are interrupted while we are performing a task, it can take 20 minutes or longer to refocus.
This time adds up extremely quickly. So, how can we utilize our time better? By minimizing distractions where possible and recognizing that doing five things at once may not be the best option. There are times when we do need to make an attempt to multitask but this should not be our primary way of operating.
It may seem counter-intuitive but we can actually achieve more when we focus on one task at a time. Warren Buffet has started previously that he will only move on to the next task once the previous one has been completed. Instead of doing a small amount of many things, it’s advantageous to complete one task and then move on to the next. Not only is it beneficial for our productivity levels because we can see the progress that we are making, it also allows us to reduce the amount of time we spend refocusing on each individual task.
Multi-tasking is merely smoke and mirrors. It gives the illusion that we are completing a lot of tasks but in reality, it’s usually just a small amount of many things. Some days you may feel like you have done a lot of work but haven’t got anything to show for it. It’s because you have spread yourself too thing by working on a variety of tasks rather than focusing on one after the other.
Many of us have bought into a false truth that multitasking yields greater results. I don’t believe this is true. While a select few may truly exceed at being able to multitask effectively and efficiently, the majority of us would perform at a higher rate if we focused on one thing at time. Focusing on a single task reduces the risk of making small errors. We may feel like we are giving our undivided attention to a task but when we are constantly jumping back and forth towards tasks, errors are inevitably made.
When we are able to focus on one task, we can give our full attention to it and move into a state of flow. However, if we’re required to multitask, our minds become scattered. We then spend time remembering where we were up to. It’s during this transition that errors can be made.
If we want to be more effective, we need to become more efficient. To begin, we must redefine what efficiency looks like by challenging the belief that multitasking enhances productivity rather than limiting it. For many of us, multitasking can increase the likelihood of making unnecessary errors, it can be exhausting and it decreases our ability to focus.
Our brains have a finite processing capacity and multitasking can put an unnecessary strain on it. The greater the strain, the less efficiently our minds operate. It’s similar to when a computer begins to slow down when there’s a strain on the CPU as a result of too many programs being open at once. The less tasks we have on the go, the better we can perform.
Many of us have experienced the frustration that comes from having to use a slow computer. It can feel like it takes a long to perform a seemingly simple task. This feeling can also occur when we are trying to do too much at any given time. When we multitask, we run the risk of overworking our brains and mistakes are often made as result. It is not because you’re incompetent. Instead, it’s because you are trying to focus on too many things all at once and you simply cannot give the required attention to perform each task effectively. We slow down our processing system when we divide our attention.
When our attention is divided, it takes time to refocus on a task once we are distracted or interrupted. It may take up to 25 minutes to refocus on the task which has a great impact on your efficiency. Imagine if you’re interrupted 10 times per day at work. That would mean that you would spend approximately 4 hours of your day just trying to refocus your attention on a task. That’s a large cost over time to the organization as well as your productivity.
There’s a cost to your productivity, effectiveness and ability to focus on a task. With smart phones and digital distractions, our attention spans are becoming increasingly shorter which is concerning. This means our ability to focus on one task before getting bored, disconnected or distracted is reducing. To counteract this, we must begin to schedule our time and respect ourselves enough to work on one thing at a time.
If you’re able to communicate to others that you are not to be disturbed for a portion of your day, monitor your progress and see if you are able to complete more tasks in that window of time compared to the rest of your day. Chances are, you will. Alternatively, if you work from home, you can eliminate possible distractions from your surroundings. You may want to try the 60/10 rule, which is where you focus for 60 minutes on the task at hand and take a 10 minute break. During the focused time, remove distractions such as your phone internet access. Respect your focused time and then celebrate when you have your 10 minutes to rest. Alternatively, you can schedule in time to take social media breaks which may remove the temptation to be distracted during your day.
If you try the single task approach, please leave a comment with your thoughts. I’d love to hear if this approach works for you or if it doesn’t.