Singletasking: The Newest Trend To get You Ahead

8 November 2016
Read Time: 2.9 mins

Ok, let’s be honest, it’s not really a new trend. You’re mum probably always told you to concentrate on one thing at a time as a kid. She was right. In a world where we are continuously connected, via phone, email, social media, multitasking has become commonplace, even revered as a desirable skill, but the truth is it’s doing us damage.

In fact, experts believe that multitasking is a brain drain and can send you into early mental decline. Our brains are wired to do one thing at a time, so frequently switching between tasks can overload the brain. This means we’re not fully invested in each task and errors become routine. Chronic multitaskers have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can also decrease your memory capacity. 

Alarm bells are ringing. All of a sudden it seems everyone is taking note of these side effects. Trying to check your emails, take notes on a presentation and listen to a colleague’s findings can be done at the same time, yes, but everything suffers for it. Your work because you’re not fully invested in the one task at hand. Your relationships because you’re not giving your full attention to anyone, weakening your connections. Your memory and your health because your brain is in constant stress mode. Hence the newest trend in business, wellness and getting ahead: singletasking. 

Just as playing or learning a new instrument is lauded as a promising way to increase smarts and creativity as you age, singletasking can lower stress and keep your brain more active. Not to mention make you more efficient, productive and valuable to your business. 

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It’s likely you’ve been multitasking for such a long time that you don’t even know you’re doing it. It takes a concerted effort to let go of such an ingrained habit and focus on one thing at a time, but it is possible. Psychologists believe that we can only process or remember three things at one time. So here are three simple steps for achieving the art of singletasking.

1. Remove Distractions

Silence your phone, close your emails and remove notifications from your computer. This allows you to focus on one task at a time without your concentration being broken. This can be extremely difficult when starting out, so begin small – 15 minute intervals then take a break. You’ll be surprised at how productive you become, not to mention accurate and feel more in control. Be aware of when you feel the urge to switch tasks. Sometimes (and I’ve done it a few times while writing this article in fact), we get distracted, by another tab, our phones, an email. Often we don’t realize that we’ve moved away from the task at hand until after the fact. Try to recognize when you start wandering, sometimes you need to, but most of the time, you can learn to reign yourself in. 

2. Break Your Brain Cycle

Rather than just roaming while staring at a screen, step away from your computer – without your phone or any other device. Get some fresh air, look out the window into the distance – focus your eyes on something far away. This not only gives your brain a break from challenging tasks, it helps to relax your eyes, removing the strain of looking at a screen. Pausing your brain for a few moments several times a day makes space for slower thinking and innovative ideas. 

3. Put Everything on a To Do List

Select one or two items that are top priority and focus on them today. If you, as I often do, think of something that you need to do, like email your friend or buy milk on the way home, add them to your list and keep working. Similarly if you come across an article you want to read, but it’s not related to your current task, bookmark it, or add it to a digital reading list like Instapaper or Readability. By acknowledging these things you won’t forget them, nor let them distract you. Remember, focusing on multiple items at once will only increase your stress and decrease your ability to complete any of the tasks properly or efficiently. 

If you’re reading this and thinking it sounds too difficult, you probably need to do it most. Multitasking usually comes when you realize that there is in fact no conceivable way to complete everything on your to do list and panic ensues. Instead, accept that you can’t get everything done and start with one thing. Feeling a sense of completion is extremely satisfying. If you skimmed down to this point looking for the magic answer while you’re simultaneously halfway through an email on your other screen, stop now – read the whole article, or bookmark it for later. 


Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.