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The science of single-tasking

Simon Labahn

Multiple tasks and multiple tabs

It's very easy to rack up a full row of open tabs - anyone who's seen my laptop can attest to that.

I myself use Google Chrome and even with the option to save, add tab management extensions or use the browser's exciting new 'Tab Groups' tool to further organise, I still find these products do not provide the ultimate solution, the ability to visually track next items on a to-do list, while moving seamlessly from one task to the next.

How many tools do I use?

Further to the above point, the increase in software vendors, especially SaaS, APIs and all other tools, have produced a large number of providers that do offer real value for users, both from a personal and business perspective. However, the problem with these providers is that many require high levels of attention and manual input from the user to be helpful.

To do list

Most people have a never ending to-do list that is continually increasing as they remember their next urgent task to complete.

Prioritising key tasks to complete on a daily basis and preparing in advance for the week to come can provide a more structured approach to checking off your list.

“...we spend 46.9% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing.”

Single-tasking vs multitasking

“The quickest way to do many things is to do one thing at a time.” – Christopher Westra

According to a 2010 Harvard study, we spend 46.9 percent of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. This mind-wandering habit is making us unhappy, according to Killingsworth and Gilbert. They wrote: “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

It is also understood that it takes an average of 23 minutes for a person to fully regain focus on a task after becoming distracted. These are staggering numbers and are having a huge impact on both productivity and mental wellness at both a micro and macro level.

How can I get better at single tasking?

When you wake up, instead of leaning over to find your phone and check the latest news, social media or work communication, try either moving your phone into another room or using a blocking tool.

This tool could block distracting sites at the time you wake up, such as Slack and Gmail, between 7-9am Monday to Friday.

This has been proven to put yourself into a more focused and proactive mode, rather than a reactive state.

Scheduling tasks and breaks

Try blocking notifications of your most distracting sites in advance. You can then enjoy "your fix" at certain times of the day, allowing you to focus on your work throughout the day, safe in the knowledge that you can look at those sites guilt-free in a planned and scheduled manner.

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