April 07, 2010

The value of single tasking

I'm going to write this post without stopping to check my email. 

It's hard for us to do this in these times: Cell phones, email, twitter, web, people stopping by, etc. -- But if you want to be effective and sane, you must learn how to single task.  I thought about this today when I read a tweet by Steven Furtick (a true success story).  He wished out loud that he could do just one thing at a time and noted that he was interrupted three times trying to post the update.  

He is not alone. 

Too many of us think we are like our kids, and can do five things effectively at a time.  In fact, the reality is that you dilute your brain when multitasking.  Only through focus can clarity shine through, making all of your work better.  This is especially true for the 30, 40 and 50 somethings reading this post.  You are not digital native.  You did not grow up texting, IMing, browsing, listening to music and watching TV at the same time like your kids. 

I've also found that constant interruption either self-imposed or imposed by others leads to stress and depression.  This was one of the findings of my 2003 study on New Economy Depression Syndrome. Think of multi-talking as a habit, a bad one, and make a promise to yourself that you'll go back to the old days, where you did one thing at a time.  

Here are a few ways to become a single-tasker: 

1. Organize your day around single tasks, with two or three breaks for email (thanks Tim Ferriss).  If you allocate 30 minutes at 9:30am to write your daily blog post, do that and only that.  Turn off your phone's ringer.  Close your email application.  Don't even think about checking your Twitter/FB feed as a 'break'. 

2. Train everyone in your life that you are not always available.  Many of our interruptions come from the instant gratification culture we allow.  It's time to either push back on interruptions or ignore them altogether.  Let them know that you are working on this project and your next available 'free' window is at 3pm.  Period.  No apologies.  

3. Schedule your social media/web surfing time, and unless it's core to your business, don't give it more than 15% of your daily schedule.  To make things easier, have a vanilla home page like Google (instead of Yahoo or MSN) so you aren't distracted by the daily news of the weird.

4. After doing this for one month, compare the quality of your work against the previous month when you were a multi-tasker.  You'll find out that you are doing much better, now that you are working with focus. 

OK - The post is written, now I'll go on the web and find the two URLs I need to include above (the study, Tim Ferriss's book).  That would have certainly led to an interruption. 

Posted at 11:14 AM in Business Effectiveness  |  Permalink  |  Comments (7)  |  TrackBack (0)



la qualité et le prix le plus raisonnable par les images montrées et des images en ligne. Supposons que vous êtes étudiant en première année tel accord, vous êtes enclin à être trompés. Avant de faire un achat, il est plus


So cute! I already like you on FB and also get your posts on Google Reader. :)


Very relevant information. Well-stated, with a clear call to action that most of us probably need.

I am hereby committing to being a better single-tasker, and am going to start with one month of single tasking and see how it works.



Avis--- Looks like you are one of those digital natives (generation) that has the unusual capacity to multi task without a decrease in performance = or at least you think! Anyway, good point, know your limitations.


Great reminder Tim! Also appreciated the steps (which I was reminded of in SWITCH). Will try it just for today... and hopefully tomorrow, and the day after that. Will let you know how it goes!


You will be happy to know that I read through your entire blog post without interruption. I found the experience a little unnerving at first, and I got an anxiety attack about 2/3 of the way down. But I persevered. And now I am writing this comment without checking my email or twitter stream.


Nice point Tim!

I'm very used to talking with 3 people on IM, texting, reading an article, all during a lecture that I'm taking notes on and actually absorbing the material. I believe that this actually allows me to use my time most efficiently, as I am still retaining as much from lecture as the rest of the class. Lately I've noticed, however, that when I really need to focus and get some project finished (e.g. engineering work, writing, etc), when I go off alone to a library or any similar quite place and focus only on the work, I am far more productive.

I therefore agree with your article in full but would like to add one caveat: know your own limitations. Figure out which tasks require your full attention, and for those make sure to give them it. On the flipside, if you can figure out which activities require less thought, you can use that time to get caught up on your online readings / networking, hopefully freeing up more time for later on.

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