Habit of the month January: Singletasking

By johannatime On January 1, 2015 Under The Habit of the Month

Singletasking is a sensible habit. It makes you feel more in control, less overwhelmed, more productive and more satisfied about your work. So the habit of the month January is:

S  I  N  G  L  E  T  A  S  K  I  N  G

An alternative to singletasking, multitasking, is the automatic behaviour of the majority of knowledge workers. That’s probably because there are overwhelmingly many options you could do at the same time, and they’re all coming at you at an incredibly fast pace. You feel slow and behind schedule if you don’t act upon them immediately. Before you know it, multitasking becomes a standard and a habit.

In reality, multitasking is impossible, at least for humans. When you think you are multitasking, you’re not actually doing two things at the same time, you are quickly switching between tasks. After each switch, your brain needs some time to adjust, which is a time and enery consuming process. If you would finish one task first, and then the next, you would be far more productive.

So I suggest to start this year by making singletasking your standard. This habit simplifies your life and makes you a bit more mindful of where your time goes. It will not hurt either because you will save time and energy, too.

Where to start?

  1. As I described in my bonus post about adopting habits, most habits have a trigger. The trigger for multitasking is often distractions, like the little alarms you get after receiving a new message. Tweak the trigger by turning the alarms off. Find your other triggers and see if you can minimise them.
  2. It is best to take small steps. For changing your multitasking standard into a single tasking habit, I recommend allocating regular short windows of concentration time to single tasking on difficult tasks, because the more complicated a task is, the more you naturally feel that there’s no point getting distracted, because otherwise you’ll never get it done. No problem if completing the task takes more than one session, taking small steps is key.
  3. When you manage to focus on one difficult task for short time intervals without interruption, see if you can expand to longer time intervals and applying it to easier tasks. The more ‘ad hoc’ a task is, the more tempted you will be to multitask your way around and through it.
  4. In the unfortunate event that you are disturbed and you have to switch, write yourself a note where you left your task and continue right after the interruption.
  5. The reward for adopting singletasking as a working habit is in the habit itself, so celebrating it will be easy. Enjoy!

If you’re not convinced, here are the benefits of single tasking

  • You’ll invite more calmness into your (working) day so you’ll feel less overwhelmed and tired.
  • You’ll have a stronger focus on your task so you get better quality outcomes.
  • Each task takes less time so you get more tasks done.
  • You can estimate more realistically how long your tasks will take you to complete.
  • You’ll increase your sense of satisfaction so you’ll have more positive working and other ‘doing’ experiences.

So eventually, singletask by default. It is worth it. And please let me know how you go by sharing your comments below:

Johanna Jansen

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