Single-tasking: focusing on the here and now

‘Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.’ ~Alexander Graham Bell.

I used to be the multi-tasking champion.

I’d have a pile of tasks on my desk, all being worked on at the same time.
I’d take regular breaks from my writing to check email and text messages and Facebook.
At night-time, when I was relaxing, I’d be reading half a dozen novels at once, all lined up, their spines broken open, on my bedhead.

It took me a while to learn that the more tasks I did at once, the less productive I was on all of them.

There are standing jokes about how women can multi-task but men can’t. You know what? Women can’t multi-task effectively either.

I don’t believe that any of the world’s greatest works or achievements were done by people whose focus was splintered across many different interests.

People become great, and achieve their best, when we focus intently on a single job. When we give our everything to what we’re doing, that’s when we do our best work.

We also feel overwhelmed when we take on too much, and believe that by multi-tasking we’ll somehow magically be able to manage it all. Taking on one project then another and another is a sure-fire way to feel stressed.

When we single-task, we must put our jobs into an order of importance, and even delegate our work to others, both important skills in management and organisation.

The most effective, capable people I know – people I admire and respect at the top of their careers – single task their most important work. Their careers depend on it.

They turn off Facebook and Twitter and their mobile phones.
They deal with email at set, scheduled times only.
They have organised ways of dealing with interruptions and distractions that would otherwise waste their time and attention.
They know how to categorize their work in order of importance, and how to delegate to others when necessary.
They also, perhaps most importantly, know how to ask for help when they need it.

Single-tasking means working with focus and intent. Concentrating on the job at hand with the best of your ability and with complete attention. Giving your work 100% of your energy. Being completely in the moment. Simplifying and minimizing distractions. Leave the distractions and the clutter of your life for after the job is done.

Of course, when you begin to single-task effectively, the next question is: do you really need all those extra distractions in your life at all?

It’s food for thought.


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