Are You a Multi-Tasker or Single-Tasker?

We hear the term ‘multi-tasker’ all the time.  It is often associated with very productive and efficient people who get the most out of their time.  But what about the opposite side of the spectrum? ‘Single-taskers’ tend to be looked down upon by multi-taskers. They are often perceived as slow, or unable to keep up.

In our frenetic-paced world, how can anyone be successful if they can’t do more than one thing at a time?  I urge you to hold on for just a second and consider the research. It is compelling to rethink how we approach our busy world and take on a more methodical manner for getting things done.  As a self-professed multi-tasker who is surrounded by lovely people who are also digging into their ‘to do’ lists in hand-fulls,  I have to say that perhaps the single-taskers are onto something. I admire how these individuals focus on one thing at a time until it is complete.

I ‘get’ the appeal to the multi-tasker approach… we often feel incredible when reflecting upon the vast amount of things accomplished in a short timeframe. We tend to move ‘at the speed of light’, answering email, making appointments and talking on the phone all at the same time.  We are so effective! But are we?

According to a Harvard Business Review article, we aren’t effective as we could be if we single-tasked.  Harvard’s study shows that efficiency is reduced by as much as 40 percent when multi-tasking. 40%!!  There may be times where we can accept a decrease in efficiency, but is 40% really worth it in the end?  When you put it that way, it seems not.

But, having always thought of myself as a multi-tasker, how do I change?  It feels slow and old fashioned.  I can’t help admitting that with research showing that being a single-tasker pays off in the long run, I may just give this a whirl.  The big question…where do I begin?

Prioritizing tasks, according to Psychology Today.  Make a list of tasks and start each day with the most important one on the list. The goal isn’t necessarily to complete task #1 in one sitting, but to give it my sole attention for a brief time.  Don’t answer the phone unless it is urgent (in reality, urgent is so subjective!).  Don’t answer email (in fact, close it for now).  Don’t open another program on your computer.  Just focus on task #1 for about 20 minutes.  When twenty minutes is up, evaluate the progress  made on task #1 and reevaluate if you have done enough on that topic for the day.  If I have furthered it enough for now, or if my focus is waning, turn to task #2 for the same amount of time.  If you must, check in on your email or return phone calls (not at the same time!) for 10 minutes. If task #1 needs to make further progress, go back to it when you have completed the cycle.

This isn’t going to be easy for a hard-core multi-tasker to do, but it is good to try.  Keep track of your results and see if you are making more in depth progress on your to do list.  I think this is an interesting approach that could certainly help even the most serious multi-tasking junkie try a new take on productivity.  Stick with it and see how you do! Good luck!