Single-Tasking at Work

Multitasking splits your brain!

I had to research this to see what happens, scientifically speaking, when I try to multi-task. Whenever I try to do it, I may feel like a temporary powerhouse – oooh, look at what I am doing, so many tasks at once – but that feeling is quickly and always replaced with stress and an intense feeling of unproductivity. I end up leaving work thinking of all of the things I kind of, sort of worked on today, but how very little of them, or anything is actually completed. Sometimes, I can’t even think of something I accomplished that day. These are not good feelings.

Back to the Brain when it’s multitasking…

brain on multitasking

Your brain has halves, which I think we all knew. They’re most commonly referenced in one half is responsible for logical thinking and the other, creative. Well, you also have sections or compartments of the brain. Part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is the frontal section of your brain (still has a right and left side). Essentially when you carry out a task, both sides of the prefrontal cortex work in harmony to carry out that task. But when I try to work on a report, respond to an email, and finish up saving and fixing that other report, I force those sides of the prefrontal cortex to work independently of one another. In some studies, scientists have found that in doing so, we forget details and make 3 times more mistakes. So, not only does it lower our productivity, but could also be lowering our IQ, and definitely negatively impacts our productivity.

So what’s a girl to do? As chaotic of a world I work in being in Digital Advertising, I am determined to master the art of single-tasking. For whatever reason, we tell ourselves that we’re more productive when we work on a multitude of things in a day, vs finishing 1 or 2 things completely. But, I know that truly, the day is productive when I leave work feeling accomplished, calmer, focused, and can actually name something I completed that day. This is sort of a new approach for me, but I have been testing out a few strategies to make my work-life feel more controllable than it has been lately. Here are a few of my tips and findings that I can share with you!

remove-distractions-stay-focused

My tips for single-tasking mastery:

  1. Set your goals for tomorrow, today before you leave work. You know exactly where you left off, so now you can set and plan out your tomorrow with things you need to get done by the end of the next day. Many successful people (what is success, anyways) will tell you not to check email first thing in the morning or last thing at night. I agree with that, but also will add that setting your tomorrow up, today while you’re still at work is probably the best gift you can give yourself. While your mind is already in work-mode and you are about to head out, it’s the best time to effectively plan tomorrow without forgetting anything. Plus, it’s the perfect way to wind down the day, leaving you in a good mental place knowing you have a plan to attack tomorrow.
  2. Plan for only one day ahead. Instead of trying to plan what I was going to do tomorrow, this weekend, and even Wednesday of next week, I changed my approach to only plan tomorrow’s day. This doesn’t mean I am not thinking ahead. I am very aware of projects that I have a week out, by by focusing on just the next day, I strategically stay focused on the tasks at hand and then everything falls into place perfectly. This is because I know exactly what I need to do today to set the next day up for success, and on it goes.
  3. Do not put off roadblocks that prevent you from accomplishing your day’s priorities. Today, I had a goal of completing a specific client presentation. In reading the tasks and the information I was asked to report on, I didn’t agree with some of the specific details I was asked to provide. The person I needed to chat with was off-site for the rest of the day. Instead of waiting or putting it off, I booked a quick chat with my Manager, chatted through a game plan or some options and completed the presentation to what I felt was a better way to display the information. I sent a followup email to the original requester and laid out the reasons as to why I disagreed and then presented the alternative solution, including a link to the modified presentation. Chances are, they aren’t going to want to change it all after I’ve completed it.
  4. Block out your time and designate parts of your things to specific tasks. Nothing sets you up for failure like failing to plan out your day – not just what you’ll do, but when. Every evening before I leave work, I take a look at the next day’s calendar and my task list. I then block off chunks of my available time and designate them to specific tasks (10-11:30 AM, work on client presentation, 3-3:30 check emails last time for the day & respond immediately to urgent ones). In the times when  I am pinged on Google Hangouts, Slack or in-person for something that requires my attention and wasn’t planned for, I try to ask the urgency level and push it off until the next day when I can plan time to designate to that specific need/ask, etc. I can’t always do this because some things are just URGENT, but I am trying to get better about respecting my time and priorities and putting off things that can wait until the following day when I am clear headed and can focus on those items.
  5. Listen to classical music. This is a completely acceptable distraction that contrarily has proven to help increase focus on tasks, believe it or not. Not only that, but it helps eliminate environmental distractions like coworkers chatting, dogs barking, music playing from the loud speakers, laughter, etc.
  6. Speaking of distractions – silence them all, if you can. Slack, Hangouts, etc. Turn off your phone notifications or better yet, put the phone away. I just started recently keeping my phone in my purse in my filing cabinet when I have tasks that need all of my mental energy, and it completely helps! Even when my phone is out, but I don’t check it, it’s still such a mental distraction knowing it’s there, seeing it there, and wondering if I am potentially missing some urgent message.

What are your thoughts on these? Have you found any that help you stay focused and commit to one task at a time? Feel free to share and comment below, would love to hear how others are working this strategy into their daily work lives!

Stay focused, my friends.

 

Author: Stefanie Hooper

Stefanie is a passionate problem-solver and advocate of learning and development. She studies workplace culture, leadership, the mind, and personal development and shares her experience and findings. Her goal is to inspire others to learn to see themselves, others, and the world differently and make positive changes.

5 thoughts on “Single-Tasking at Work”

  1. Love this post. I think it is amazing how popular the advice is that multitasking is the new productive. When clearly, focus is the absolute key to good work. Something I have recently done that helps is I set aside only two time during the day when I am allowed to check email. At 9am and 2pm. This has helped me tremendously in not hiding behind the “task” of responding to email all day long. I have found that by setting this limitation I not only have more time to dedicate to projects, but I am actually much faster at replying and managing my email. Who would’ve thought. Thanks for all the great advice. I am definitely going to try several of your tips.

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    1. Thank you for the comment! I love your approach to dedicating 9am and 2pm specifically for email checking. Something I have been trying to do lately is keep to times similar to those and close my gmail for the other times of the day. It’s especially difficult to do this in a workplace that treats email as though it were chat! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I truly agree with point 1, at the end of every day I make a list of what needs to get done for tomorrow. This is especially helpful to make on a Friday so you can know what needs to get done Monday morning.

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    1. Hi, thank you for the kind words! I’m so glad you found this post useful and could relate. I have heard so many swear by making a list first thing in the morning, but for me, doing it while I am in the mindset and mentally unwinding for the day helps tremendously to stay organized. And soooo much yes to the Friday to Monday difference it makes. There is nothing worse than coming in on a Monday and having to spend distracted morning hours trying to figure out what to work on and where you left off!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I 100% agree! Especially because by the end of the day Friday, your entire day may have been different than what you thought it’d be from the morning-which I think is why making the list at the end of the day works. I totally agree, if you can pick up where you left off Friday on a Monday, you’ll have a more clear mind! Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it! ❤

        Like

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