There are a thousand things to do. Another email to forward, another customer to respond to, another invoice to send out. You’re juggling a dozen tasks every day, and it’s difficult to focus on just one, even for a few minutes. Ping, there goes your email notification; buzz, there goes your phone. Business life is a mixture of notifications, reactions and keeping people happy.
Just for a moment.
There’s a better way.
The dangers of multi-tasking and the distracted mind
Studyafterstudy has shown that multi-tasking (doing lots of things at once) is very counter-productive. Trying to do similar tasks simultaneously creates a conflict in the brain, causing inefficiency – it’s simply neurologically impossible. People who try to concentrate on multiple tasks at once are nowhere near as effective as people who single-task.
Benefits to single-tasking
There are plenty of great reasons to single-task:
- You’ll get more done – meaning you’ll improve your business faster.
- You’ll be more satisfied – ticking items off a list feels great.
- You’ll have a sense of accomplishment – results will come more quickly.
- You’ll be “in the zone” – your work will be of a much higher quality.
Tips to help you single-task more effectively
Here are some helpful hints to minimize the effort and maximize the results of single-tasking.
Reduce your distractions
Much multi-tasking is simply a reaction to distractions, so reduce those distractions as much as possible. While you’re concentrating, shut down your email programs, put your phone on silent, close Slack and Skype, and shut-down Facebook and Twitter. Only keep the tabs open you need to work – there are even add-ons you can get to help you stay focussed.
Prioritize and use the “must-do” list
Read our article on prioritization to find out about the “must do” list. This is simply the one task you have to get done – today. Focus on that exclusively until it’s finished. It’s often easier to concentrate on these types of tasks in the morning, when you have a good amount of energy to move them forward.
Chunk up your day
Of course, you’re still going to check emails, respond to message requests and browse Facebook. It’s a great idea to set up a clear schedule for each of these things, including time to procrastinate and just wander around your favorite social networks. By giving yourself time to do these things and putting boundaries around them, you’ll be able to focus more clearly.
Group similar tasks together
If you have similar tasks like sending out invoices, reconciling bank balances, getting bills paid, or dealing with other things, group those tasks together. (i.e., send out all of your invoices at once.) You’ll be in the right mental space, which reduces the time it takes to switch.
Plan out your larger tasks
If you’ve got one big “must do” task, plan and break it down into succinct subtasks that you can complete one by one. Every subtask you complete will move the major task forward.
Finally, practice single-tasking. It’s difficult to get it right all the time, but if you notice yourself getting distracted, don’t feel guilty. Just acknowledge that it’s happened and gently get yourself back into a space of single-tasking again. After a few days, single-tasking will become second-nature, and you’ll start to feel clearer and calmer.