Forget multitasking: Here’s why you should focus on singletasking

Forget multitasking: Here’s why you should focus on singletasking

Things that matter most must never be at the expense of things that matter least.
–Goethe

Psst. Over here.

Want to know the best way to maximize your efficiency? Ditch multitasking. Don’t be duped by multitasking’s enticing, yet wildly misleading, claims to a better life.

Busy professionals, often balancing work with full-throttle personal lives, justify their propensity to do several things at once by citing a desperate, at times frantic, need for productivity. The result is what I deem “Scattered Brain Syndrome” or SBS. Eschewing focus and attention, we are only partially present for our lives. SBS is an epidemic. My head spins just thinking about it.

If you think multitasking is the path to freedom, think again. Extensive research for my most recent book Singletasking: Get More Done One Thing at a Time (Berrett-Koehler 2015) revealed some astonishing findings. Put on your seatbelt.

Less is more

As Singletasking reveals, attempting to do more than one thing at a time reduces—rather than increases—our effectiveness. But wait, there’s more.

As it turns out, multitasking is a myth. You heard me right. Your mind can’t be two places at once. The human brain is hardwired to do one thing at a time. When we are engaged in what we erroneously dub “multitasking,” in fact we are doing what neuroscientists call ‘task switching’—the brain is rapidly moving back and forth between tasks. The upshot? Task switching not only lowers IQ, it even shrinks the brain’s grey matter. Not so great after all.

Now you may be thinking, “Listen here Devora, I multitask with ease. For example, just this morning I was exercising while enjoying my best mix of pump-it-up tunes.” I admire your spunk. Engaging in two activities is okay if one is an automated function, such as listening to music.

Or perhaps your mind went in a different direction, assessing that you’re way too busy to indulge in the perceived luxury of singletasking. To this I respond, “Actions do not correlate to results.” Scientists worldwide have proven we get far more accomplished—at a higher quality—when engaged in one task at a time. Attempting to multitask reduces efficiency and quality of life due to mistakes, oversights, and fuzzy focus.

An alternative approach

An alternative approach Attempting to multitask not only lowers productivity and weakens the brain, it also diminishes relationships. In our addiction to devices we are increasingly disrespectful to the people right in front of us. When clients tell me they multitask, that they have to, I reply, “And how’s it working for you so far?” Does living in a perpetual state of distraction improve the quality of your life, work, and interactions?

We are the most creative, productive, and fulfilled when fully immersed in events and tasks. Task-switching precludes being in a state of heightened attention, also known as “flow.”

Here are some questions and answers to get you started on a singletasked journey.

Ask yourself: Is my mind in the same place as my body?
Sync your mind and body. Ever catch yourself spacing out? That means your actions and thoughts are in different places. Make a conscious effort to be fully present. Begin by centering your attention on the person or task right in front of you.

Ask yourself: How can I eliminate distractions before they occur?
Create simple systems to eliminate potential distractions before they occur; I call this “building fences.” To start, prior to a phone call, turn off your auditory pings and visual popups. Nip distractions in the bud rather than relying on superhuman powers to ignore them once they intrude on your conversation.

Ask yourself: Does one type of activity take over my day like crabgrass on a lawn?
Try my technique of “clustertasking.” Choose an activity you engage in frequently such as checking emails. Cluster that task into two to three designated segments throughout the day rather than letting nonstop messaging overrun your other obligations.

Integrate Bits of Downtime Into Your Life Ask yourself: Am I always rushing?
Practice “timeshifting.” Although some tasks require intensity and hard work, set aside time each day to unwind. The University of London found that even 15 minutes a day of relaxing increases overall productivity by 24 percent. If you feel guilty taking a walk or reading a magazine with your coffee, let it go. You’re more productive by integrating bits of downtime into your life.

A better lifestyle awaits

What a relief! You can enjoy stronger relationships, better results, and happier days by singletasking. At any given moment, you can do one thing well or two things poorly. The choice is yours.

Tell us: What’s your secret to avoiding “Scattered Brain Syndrome” and embracing Singletasking?