Do one thing at a time
Does it feel to you that you tend to juggle many different tasks at once? When working on a project, do you catch yourself, just incidentally, checking your email, browsing unrelated websites, chatting with someone on messenger? Does any of this sound familiar?
I would like to show you an alternative strategy that will boost your productivity. It is about doing only one thing at a time. If you look for ways to accomplish more in less time, read on.
For over a dozen years, multitasking has become a very popular trend in the modern world. Wanting to accomplish as many things and as fast as possible, people tend to take on several tasks at a time. It might seem like a good idea – after all, our mind is capable of taking on quite many things. However, does multitasking really mean that you will do your job faster and better?
The control base efforts
The human brain has a certain span of attention that it can devote to the tasks at hand. When there is more than one task involved, our focus is spread thin between them. Suppose you are studying for an exam. When you engage in other activities such as checking your email and chatting via the Internet communicator, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is set off. According to researchers, this sort of a “control base” is responsible for prioritizing and juggling your attention between different tasks. It manages the entire process and gives information to specific areas of the brain that they are needed for action.
When the brain is forced to deal with more than one task, it needs time and energy to continuously shift its attention. Operating this control base is a real effort for the brain. When we are studying and suddenly need to answer a friend’s question, the concentration we have managed to achieve is fleeing and our attention is being directed somewhere else. Returning to focus on what you were studying will take some time and consume a certain amount of energy. In such conditions, it is physically impossible for your brain to concentrate fully on studying. For example, it turns out that our listening capabilities decrease by half when our brain is, at the same time, to analyze an image.
When you are talking on the phone while driving a car, your attention is also divided. Some scientists even say that such situation is similar to driving a car when under the influence of a small amount of alcohol.
When you attempt to do several things at once, you lose in terms of both the performance quality and the time needed to complete the tasks. If you are doing two more things, it will take you much longer to study the material and you will be far less effective in it.
One foot in front of the other
The solution is to do one thing at a time. Let your mind direct all its attention to just one task at hand. When you are about to study, turn off your computer. When you are behind the wheel, don’t talk on the phone. When you are writing an article or a paper, don’t open your mailbox.
What are the benefits of such approach? First and foremost, the quality of your performance will increase. When you are doing only one thing at a time, you are likely to achieve a very high level of concentration. This state of mind will help you deal with the most challenging tasks and take the most of all your resources and skills. What’s more, you will finish the task much faster. When focusing on one thing at a time, your brain doesn’t have to waste time switching between its work modes.
A small annotation for people who are used to studying or reading with some music on. Try turning off any background music and then see how, thanks to that modification, your focus will increase. If you are very attached to this habit, turn on instrumental music that has no lyrics. Music with lyrics must be processed by the brain area which is responsible for that, thus diminishing the focus on your task. When listening to an audiobook, try closing your eyes. Your hearing will be sharpened, and your ability to absorb information and process it will increase significantly.
Do it until it’s not done?
A few days ago, I received an interesting email from a reader, concerning the idea of doing more than one thing at a time. It seemed that he had several important goals and had to obtain all of them simultaneously, as he couldn’t afford to wait until he completed one task before he moved to the next one. His priorities include writing a master’s thesis, looking for a job, developing skills and learning foreign languages.
Be sure to understand that doing one task at a time doesn’t mean that you have to finish your master’s thesis first, then find a job, then focus on your development, and only then learn a foreign language. It specifically means only that at a given time you channel your complete focus into only one task.
By all means, you can spend, let’s say, three hours in the morning on browsing job offers and then five hours in the afternoon on writing the second chapter of your thesis. The point is that when writing you don’t go through job advertisements as it would not only impact the quality of your master’s thesis, and not in a good way, but also take up more time to finish writing the chapter!
Multitasking is not always bad
There are certain activities that require so little attention and commitment from our mind that we can easily do them while doing something else. Obviously, you can do more than one thing at a time, when you don’t need your entire focus on any of these things. For example, when driving a car, you can listen to music, news or audiobooks. The same goes for running, riding a bicycle, or commuting.
It’s up to you to discern when you need to reach for more intellectual resources to perform a specific task. My way of doing one thing at a time looks like that:
I write down what I have to do today. Then I get down to the thing that is my priority and allot the time for completing it. I engage in that task with all my strength without getting involved in anything else at this time. In this way, I can enter a state of high concentration and focus completely on this task. Only when this thing is completed, I move to the next position on my to-do list.
Remember that getting one thing done is better than poking around three things and leaving all of them undone. Try single-tasking and you will increase your productivity by several times. Effectiveness understood as attaining high quality of work completed in a shorter period of time is considered more precious than gold these days.
What is your experience in this field?