One thing at a time

Single task.png

I'd had back to back meetings all morning and now I had a couple of hours to get through a few 'have to do' jobs. I was focused, organised and really ready to knuckle down. Things had been building up all week and I was looking forward to getting some things done. I grab my favourite wrap from the coffee place (chicken ceasar salad of course) and then I bump into a friend who persuades me to stop for just a couple of minutes to chat. When I sit, the sensible part of my brain kicks in and I think....I'll eat lunch here. I'll stop and actually notice what I am eating and take a few moments to enjoy the food.

We chatted, I enjoyed lunch and I headed back to my office refreshed and ready to go. It had only been 10 or 15 minutes.

I worked through the tasks I had to do without dropping lettuce or dressing on the keyboard. I concentrated fully on what I was doing, without my brain having to manage to balance the wrap in one hand while I typed and read.

The joy and productivity of single tasking.

I know we have this busy contest going on. But does it do us any good. I hope to convince you that it doesn't.

I am currently reading this book by Caroline Webb and each chapter is a delight and full of incredible information. It has a research base and a practical summary of how to implement what she considers will help with having the best day. It's one of those books where I want to memorize everything as it all sounds so great.

As you can guess, the latest chapter I've read is on single tasking.

You get that little buzz from the multiple jobs you have to do and the delight that you are probably winning the busy contest.

Caroline Webb points out that "research unequivocally shows that multitasking damages our productivity'. Trying to do more than one thing at at time slows us down, but also causes us to make more mistakes (hello we work in healthcare and really need to think about what we ask our teams to do - there are patients at the end point of all of this).

OK,  you may not all be patient facing all day everyday but I bet you have an email fetish of some sort (I certainly do). Yet a colleague recently looked at me in disbelief when I said I turn off outlook when I am working on a specific task, report or job. I just don't need these distractions. A life turning moment for me several years ago was when I turned off email alert notifications - yes that little flash in the corner or the ping on your phone - you can turn these off!

Our dopamine cravings can't resist the ping - but back to Caroline Webb and "a study of Microsoft employees found that after they were interrupted by an email, it took them fifteen minutes to fully regain their train of thought"

Caroline's chapter goes into the neuroscience of the loss of productivity plus explains the difference between our 'deliberate' brain functioning and our 'automatic' brain functioning - why we can do some automatic tasks at the same time - driving the car to work is an often used example in this case.

She ends her chapter with a simple summary of the topics she has covered in relation to single tasking. My top three from this list:

  • Batch your tasks [grouping similar tasks together]
  • Zone your day [decide on the best time of day for each type of task - that works for
  • Remove distractions [minimise interruptions, turn off those email alerts]

She has heaps of other ideas in this chapter and some great case studies of how these work in practice - including if you have a boss who expects a reply to an email soon after they have sent it!

Have a look at Paolo Cardini questioning the efficiency of our multitasking world and makes the case for monotasking.