When you've got a lot to do, the inclination is to try to do as much of it at the same time as possible. Multitasking has become the norm, but it's actually not always the best approach to getting things done. It's often better to focus on one challenge at a time rather than taking on too much and never truly finishing any of it. Need convincing? Here are eight benefits to single-task focus.
1. You'll Be Working With Your Brain's Natural Process
Our brains can only think about one thing at a time, so when we multitask, we're not actually doing it all at once. Since our brains are programmed to have a single focus, that's what we're really doing — we're just switching between each task quickly. Although there are lots of tips on how to improve our multitasking skills, we're actually working against our brain's natural process. And that isn't ideal for productivity. It makes total sense that when we work with our brains, we achieve so much more.
2. You'll Be More Productive
Naturopathic doctor James Rouse says we finish 50 percent less when we try to multitask compared to when we focus on each task individually. If we take on too much, we never truly finish it. When I decorated my bedroom, I had to finish before the removal company arrived with my furniture. But in my rush to get it all done, I tried multitasking — painting a bit of the wall, then switching to a different paint for the wooden wardrobe doors — and I didn't do either job well. In fact, 18 months on, my wardrobe doors are still only half-painted. If only I'd focused on the walls, and then the doors, it's likely both tasks would have worked out much better. And would have both gotten finished properly, too. The constant switching between brushes and trays cost me time rather than saved it.
3. You'll Procrastinate Less
Sometimes we multitask because we don't want to give our full attention to a particular chore that we're dreading. We know we have to do it, but we can't face it. So we try to fool ourselves into thinking we're on it by giving it a tiny bit of attention whilst we're actually doing other things at the same time just to avoid dealing with it fully. Switching to a single-task focus will help knock procrastination on the head.
4. You'll Meet Your Deadlines More Easily
You know that big task we've just mentioned that you've been putting off fully dealing with? Give it your full attention and get it out of the way first. Yes, it might be a challenge, but you're far more likely to achieve your end goal and complete the task if you give it your sole focus. I often leave completing the most difficult work projects to the last minute, having given them small snatches of attention whilst multitasking, and then I have a major stress as the deadline looms. When I deal with it on its own, before anything else, I meet the deadline with much less last-minute panicking.
5. You'll Be More Mindful
The big thing about mindfulness is being present in the moment — giving our attention entirely to where we are. When we multitask, we're constantly taking ourselves away from each thing. We rush to move between our chores and therefore aren't able to be fully mindful of our experience of each task. Giving all our attention to one task helps us focus, complete, and enjoy what we're doing.
6. You'll Feel Less Stressed
Mindfulness and single-task focus helps with concentration and therefore productivity, and it also helps lower stress levels. Multitasking is such a default position that we feel as if we're somehow failing or not doing enough if we just focus on one thing at a time, but our attempts to do many things at once can leave us feeling frazzled, stressed, and like we're underachieving because we're not fully completing anything. By letting go of distractions, you'll feel more in control of the one thing you're giving your attention to. That can be very empowering.
7. You'll Enjoy Life More
Most of us have what seems like a never-ending to-do list, so we snatch any opportunity to tick off more things. How many times have you scrolled through your phone checking emails and social media whilst eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Did you really enjoy those meals, savoring the smell, taste, and texture of the food? I've done that countless times and have often ended up with indigestion too. The same goes for trying to reply to work emails while walking outside. I wouldn't have noticed any of the wonderful things going on around me because I was trying to multitask. If I'm eating, I should just be eating. If I'm walking, I should just be walking — and enjoying it.
8. You Can Take It One Step at a Time
Attempting to suddenly eradicate all multitasking from your life isn't going to be possible, so take it one step at a time. Perhaps you'll try to be mindful whilst eating your lunch today or you'll leave your phone in your pocket on your walk to the bus stop tomorrow. In the spirit of single-task focus, pick one area where you usually multitask and focus on changing that habit.