by Jane Anderson, Featured Contributor
I OPENED THE first page of this book, Singletasking: Get More Done One Thing At A Time and that was it. I had to read the rest of the book because here is what I read on the first page and I was certain it was just for me:
To my dearest reader:
You are hereby released from
the temptation to overachieve.
Suddenly it felt like the headwind I was up against switched to a tailwind. Now here was a book that I wanted to read, no – now here was the book I needed to read.
Reclaim your life – stop trying to multitask!
One of the main reasons we try the ‘multitask method’ toward progress is because we mistakenly think we can do one thing, while also doing another or maybe three others. That idea sounds feasible, but is in fact an entirely false assumption. While humans are capable of doing two passive things at one time, like eating and watching TV, trying to engage in two complex tasks reduces effectiveness and efficiency.
Multitasking is a myth, as we learn quite well from Devora Zack. Multitasking is really task switching, which means rapidly moving between tasks. We can effectively, in most cases, participate in activities that require very little conscious effort. For example we can squeeze a stress ball while carrying on a phone conversation, or we can listen to music as we walk our dog. Those passive tasks are considered simple and are not really multitasking.
Multitasking is when two complex tasks compete for the same mental resources. Do any of these sound familiar? Distractions from all over. Texting while driving or while walking. Constantly switching between tasks that are unrelated and consequently deplete concentration. Answering email while attending a training class. Efforts to multitask put a drain on brainpower and yield ineffective results for all tasks pooled in that time warp.
Singletasking is a principle. It means being here, now, immersing yourself in one thing at a time. Singletasking commits you to one thing so you are laser focused with all energy devoted to that task while you work on it. Task-switching (multitasking) is the enemy of productivity, making every task take longer and with diminished quality.
Being preoccupied is ineffective and even dangerous. The first step in singletasking is awareness. Be attentive, be focused, be present. Block distractions. Hang on! It is possible. Our brain’s executive system in the frontal lobe can assist in suppressing irrelevant information and therefore take distractions under control.
The author includes an assessment test, which I took, to find out how ‘with it’ and on task I really was during the week. I discovered that I need to learn the skill of singletasking. If productivity is important to you, multitasking will not be.
Every chapter begins with one quote that’s a myth and one that’s reality. This chapter began with Myth: Multitasking demonstrates competence. Reality: Singletasking demonstrates discipline and focus. I have long been a seeker of competence and I’ve done my fair share of trying to multitask. I see now that had I focused on one thing at a time, my competence would have increased, probably exponentially. But who really knows? As Devora so empirically points out, there is no value in wondering what-if. The point is to go forward and regain control of how the future will develop once that the urge to multitask dissipates.
Your mind is where everything starts. Focus is challenged by external stimuli. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary to control distractions which proliferate in the form of devices, the Internet, email, and clutter itself. To be able to think and concentrate, create a structure to make it easier to become mindful and focused. Sometimes I get distracted because while I’m working on one task, something about another one comes to mind. You too? Use the parking lot approach. Take a moment to jot a note about your idea, then quickly get back on the current task. Decide what matters most to you and commit.
Are your days regimented and guarded against distractions? There is a man named Dave in the book whose story is told in two versions. Take One versus Take Two and it got my attention. He had prepared a list of things he needed to get done. In Take One he let distractions blow through every one of his good intentions, but in Take Two he gets control of the distractions and his day. Because I was curious about my proclivity toward distractions, I did the assignment as suggested to see how I fared over a three day period. Here’s a cameo version of the assignment, but you will need the book to get the full effect. For three days, list what you do and the time increments spent on each task. Be sure to track everything because you will see that distractions are prolific. In fact whether you work from home, in an office, classroom, coffee shop or studio, these truths apply to you. Devora offers some pretty powerful tips for avoiding the temptation to task-switch due to distractions. Turning off email and the Internet for periods of time is one of the easiest ways to reclaim your time. Also writing out a schedule has potential. I’ve already taken her advice and built in two open half-hour blocks of time to allow for the unexpected. Reading this chapter is the first step, but the summary is where the principles of singletasking are cemented. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Your interactions as a singletasker allow you to give your full attention to others. Singletasking is not referring to the singular you. It means being present, in the moment, so when you are helping others, they get your full attention. Actions speak louder than words. If people in your family or people at work are your priority, treat them as though they are. Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who basically put Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) on the map, found that interpersonal competency is more important than IQ (Intelligence) and technical expertise. As Devora Zack points out, “Highly successful, high-income professionals are more likely to perceive texting, emailing, and being online during meetings as unprofessional and an annoyance.” Some tips from the masters: Be attentive. Be respectful. Listen with full attention. Unplug! Yes, that’s right.
Recall what matters
Actions do not equal results. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Never confuse action with activity.” In today’s vernacular we think our effectiveness is measured by the number of tasks we’re doing at once. In fact, what we should be doing is separating what we are doing and when we are doing it so we have time to do more, in less time, at higher quality because we are focusing on one task at a time. A way most people describe themselves today is that they are too busy, too little time to do all the things that are making them busy, they are overwhelmed, and to top it all off they are overwhelmed by it all.
Take time for introspection. Convert some of that web-surfing time to personal reflection time. Ditch workaholic tendencies. Technology is not your best friend. The devices designed to do things faster have instead created ceaseless demands. In our efforts to ‘save time’ we trick ourselves into thinking the way out is to multitask – which isn’t a solution at all, because then we make mistakes, achieve sub-standard quality, and have dismal communication – because there is no time.
Ultimately, it’s singletasking that creates the breathing room. Unplug from technology, take a walk, write with a pen and paper, have a conversation with cell phones turned off. Slow down.
Home sweet home is the final chapter of this perceptive book. Many of us aren’t aware of how task-switching affects our personal lives. There’s a discriminating Home Life Quiz waiting for you at the end of this book. Take it and see how well you rate in being present so you can enjoy the rewards and relationships of singletasking.
The extent to which you immerse yourself in one experience at a time impacts everything from your relationships to your personal fulfillment. Make a choice, then stick with it. Get more done, one thing at a time. And as it turns out you do have enough time after all.
From now on, my idea of multitasking will be limited to watching TV while eating a popsicle.
This book was given to me, but I would gladly purchase my own copy. The content was presented by an expert in getting things done, one thing at a time. Did you know that by multitasking, you are living in a state of ceaseless distraction? This book wasn’t just a volume on theory, but the author had proof to back it up. For instance, did you know that overloading yourself with too many competing stimuli shrinks the brain? Ewwww I know just how you feel. But it’s true and Devora has done the research, which she shares in language even I could understand. “Stress associated with trying to multi-task shrinks brain neurons, reduces problem solving, and decreases emotional regulation, resilience, and impulse control.”
If you feel like you’re wound too tight and at the slightest bump to your armor would bring out the stress in you; if your task list needs an index, if you realize you can have it all, but just not quite so much of it – this book is for you. Let’s begin . . .
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