We all pride ourselves on multi-tasking, but this notion of productivity has been debunked…. we do not multitask well. Multi-tasking gives us the illusion of achieving more and gives us that much sought-after dopamine hit of emotional satisfaction. If you think about someone in your life who achieves a lot, chances are they utilize their time well which is different than multi-tasking.
The Case for Single-Tasking, Multiple Times
When we attempt to work on multiple things at once, something suffers. Imagine trying to write a proposal while having a conversation with someone on the phone. Chances are you either miss many things on the call or your proposal doesn’t flow, and you struggle to string your ideas together in a meaningful way.
Now imagine that you paused your proposal, took the call with full attention then shifted your full attention back to the proposal. You would likely end up with a quicker, more efficient call and a much easier time conveying your ideas in a succinct way in your proposal. The most amazing part is it would likely take no more than the same amount of time as if you tried to do both together. You would also experience less stress in the process of completing both.
Understanding both need to be completed, your best performance comes from blocking out all distractions for a period, say an hour, to work solely on one project. Then take a break. The length of that break should be correlated with the mental effort and stress the project requires. More effort = longer break. This break should be a completely different type of activity. For example, taking a break from writing should not include writing a different project. A walk, listening to music, something to eat or a conversation with someone would be better choices. By doing this, you rest the part of your brain you were using for the project and come back to the project sharp and clear.
Tips for Productive Single-Tasking
For the period you are working, block out all distraction. Turn off your phone, close your door, silence your smart watch, close all applications on your laptop that could interrupt or grab your attention.
The most successful periods of my life, where I accomplished the greatest amount, were times where I lived by a block calendar. I would break the day into 15-minute increments and schedule the most important tasks first. I might schedule an hour for writing, then 15 minutes for exercise, then 30 minutes for lunch and another hour for writing, as an example.
Try it for a week and see how it turns out for you.