One Thing at a Time

By Jimmy Warden

Do you ever find yourself multitasking and realizing that you’re not doing any of the tasks well? If so, you’re not the only one.

In today’s world, multitasking is glorified. Can you write an email while on the phone? Can you listen to someone in a meeting while tackling items on your to-do list? If so, you’re hired! The paradox here is our abilities get compromised when we try to do too many things at once.

Multitasking can get you hired, but it won't allow performance to be sustained.
Multitasking can get you hired, but it won’t allow performance to be sustained

Our attention and effort are split across the set of tasks to complete them. This means we’re unable to be at our best; we aren’t able to give one hundred percent. We often don’t hear important information in that meeting or forget to put important information in a presentation or report when we engage in any of the scenarios I just mentioned.

Split attention is not as valuable as undivided attention.
Split attention is not as valuable as undivided attention

The same can be said for juggling too many tasks. A lot of work goes unfinished when we switch from one item to another at a rapid rate. Instead of putting time, effort, and energy into one task from beginning to end, we stop halfway through and start on something else. We say we’ll get to that first task later. Later, however doesn’t always come around. Pushing off incomplete tasks is a recipe for disaster

Pushing tasks off incomplete is a recipe for disaster
Pushing tasks off incomplete is a recipe for disaster

Multitasking and task switching are essentially the same thing. They require the brain to constantly switch focus, and that rapidly drains us of cognitive energy. Similar to our phone, when we have too many apps running in the background, our phone battery lives a short life. We shouldn’t do this same thing to our brain by multitasking or task switching. Each time we switch tasks, our focus needs to reboot and get its bearings to forget the previous task and focus on the new one. When this is done repetitively, the brain will quickly lose its stamina and lead to more stress.

Multitasking quickly drains our brain power.
Multitasking quickly drains our brain power

If we want to minimize our levels of stress during productive bouts, we should single-task. Single-tasking takes away the headaches of mental gymnastics because there is only one task in front of us; we don’t balance anything. We finish more tasks when we are less distracted, and we feel better about ourselves when we finish tasks. Both are helpful for our well-being.

Feeling good about ourselves is a key to health and well-being.
Feeling good about ourselves is a key to health and well-being

We also perform better when we put our focus and energy into one task at a time, from beginning to end. 100% of our attention and efforts are put into one place, which allows us to give it our absolute best. The best part is, we save time by single-tasking! Studies have shown that our brain’s capacity to sustain attention on one thing – is a whopping 20 minutes (Bailey, 2016). This is an average amount, but imagine what we could accomplish if we trained our focused attention? The more we train our focus, the better it becomes. It is an interesting experiment to see what we can accomplish when we set a timer, have one computer tab open, one chore in front of us, no phone or tablet by our side. In a world where it seems like we never have enough time for everything, this is a breakthrough idea.

Give it your best to one thing, and one thing only!
Give it your best to one thing, and one thing only!

But don’t take my word for this; try it for yourself. You just might be surprised by what you discover!

References

Bailey, C. (2016). The art of doing one thing at a time. https://alifeofproductivity.com/do-one-thing-at-a-time/

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