In a world seemingly obsessed with multi-tasking, single-tasking isn't widely popular. While the concept of single-tasking has been around far longer than its more modern day counterpart and while oodles of research supports single-tasking's effectiveness in getting more done with less stress, many people are unaware of how single-tasking might benefit them.
What is single-tasking? It is managing one activity at a time with minimal distractions and interruptions. It is all about focusing both your body and brain on one to-do until it's complete or until you actively decide to take a pause, rather than getting swept up into a distraction or head off engaging a new idea leaving the original to-do in a semi-state of completion.
You have so much competing for your attention every day. There are the needs from the people around you, the pull of the internet and social media and the inevitable mind clutter that builds over time as your brain attempts to process everything it takes in. It is likely that this firehose pace of life won't change much although collectively we have slowed things down a bit during the past year's pandemic. That said, it is vitally important to learn and incorporate ways to tune out the noise that surrounds us thereby allowing you to focus on the task at hand.
Below are my top tips around best practices for utilizing single-tasking.
plan and prioritize before you start
It's important to take some time to get clear on what tasks need to be accomplished on any given day/week/month and which ones take priority. Depending on the size and complexity of the task(s), you might need to break down larger tasks into smaller action steps and tackle smaller components as you are able. For example, when I wrote my book I didn't write down the task of writing an entire book, I broke it down into elements like architect the outline or write a particular chapter.
If you struggle with planning and prioritizing your work, finding a planner that works for you can be an important first step. Without a way to jot down and consider WHAT it is you need to work on, the HOW you need to manage and the priority of the list in general it can be easy to get overwhelmed with the ever evolving list of to-dos.
block the time you need
Giving yourself the necessary time you need to finish the task is essential. The way to do this successfully is to practice estimating how long tasks will take you to finish them and then keep a mental or physical list on how long things actually take for you to complete. This will allow you to block the appropriate amount of time on your calendar to complete them in the future.
Some people can work with music in the background or the TV on, while for many those distractions can keep them from fully concentrating on the task at hand. As you begin to practice single tasking, I recommend you try to work in a quiet space with as few distractions as possible so you can completely offer your time and attention to whatever it is that needs it.
use a timer to help keep you on track
A timer is a wonderful tool to help you stay focused and on track. It also provides you with real time feedback into how long tasks take you to see across the finish line. If you've estimated it will take you 1 hour to finish a task, consider setting a timer for 30 minutes to see how you're progressing on the task midway. I
If you have several smaller tasks you need to accomplish, you might consider using Neat Little Nest's Focused15 approach. Check out our blog post on Focused15 to read and learn more.
As a person whose mind races often and is easily distracted, I have found the practice of single tasking liberating. It helps me narrow in on singular needs and accomplish more with less anxiety. This frees me up to enjoy downtime and optimize the time I do spend on work and essential items.
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