The title for this piece could just as easily be- Toss Your Multitasking Habit in the Circular File. Our misguided belief that multitasking is the best way to get a lot done is simply wrong. It actually leads to lower productivity, poor-quality work and even depression. To be more productive at work, become a “Single tasker.” Work on focusing deeply on one task at a time, for extended periods of time, eliminate unnecessary meetings and gently train your coworkers and even your superiors to leave you alone when you’re in the middle of important tasks (and show them the same courtesy). In LIFESCALE, my latest book, I delve into my own journey from a state of constant distraction to one of greater productivity, creativity and joy in my work. While the goal I’m describing is simple, the process is challenging and often frustrating because we’re battling a society that values distraction. Inessential meetings, chatty coworkers, email, smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Candy Crush and so much more all conspire to pull us away from focusing on our true goal:
Here are three tips for getting started on a more
focused, productive work life:
- First, our attention is finite and it is usually much stronger in the morning. So, whenever possible, schedule your deeper projects for morning and then allocate blocks later in the day to less demanding work like checking emails, following up on calls, filing, and having one-on-one meetings with your staff.
- Second, to achieve this deeper state of focus, commit to turning off notifications for set periods of time. We all have two separate attention networks, a conscious system that allows us to focus on tasks at hand and an unconscious network that shifts focus toward whatever external or internal signals our senses pick up in a moment. Even though your conscious mind may be 100% focused on whatever’s important, your unconscious attention network never shuts down. This is a key reason that all of our tech distractions are so hard to ignore.
- Third, Single-task as a matter of ritual. Trim your To-Do list down from a dozen small, secondary tasks to two or three projects (even one if you can) that advance your goals. Your boss, your team, your clients – and most important, YOU – will begin to notice an improvement in the quality of your work.
Let me stress again that transforming the way you work from one of frenetic multitasking to a more orderly, focused pattern will take a bit of time. I get it. But, as you struggle, remember that by spending more time on fewer projects, you’ll get more done, do stronger work and just feel better in the process.