Right now, I'm eating my breakfast, reading my email, and drafting this story at the same time. I have crumbs on my keyboard, one eye on my Slack notifications, and I have been staring at a blank page for about five minutes. It's so much easier to write when it's the only thing I am doing. I know this, but I'm still cramming bites of my muffin in between sentences.
Multitasking has become The Way We Get Things Done.
Being busy is currency; it shows how "important" and "indispensable" you are; it means you are working hard and filling your day from start to finish. You're great at juggling, graceful under pressure and SUPER productive.
Right? Well no, not really.
There is plenty of research out there that says multitasking isn't even really real.
That our brains don't process more than one thing at a time, they just switch rapidly between the coffee in your hand, the emails on your phone, and the Twitter feed you're scrolling on your laptop. So it's no surprise that actually focusing on one task at a time is going to improve your output and your outlook.
Maybe it's time to close all those open tabs, and start doing one thing at a time.
Lauren Laverne, co-founder of U.K. women's site The Pool, writes that switching from multi to single-tasking completely changed her life.
"It was my mam who suggested single-tasking. She didn't call it that, of course. She just told me that in her hectic thirties (that time of life another friend of mine memorably described as 'when everything in your life just feels like it's on fucking fire'), she learnt to cope by forcing herself to focus on the task at hand, to the exclusion of everything else. So, no working at home, no homing at work. Choose what the moment is, then be in it.
"This life-saving advice came at the perfect time, because I needed it to help me with the phase my own life was in, but also because, by then, the age of digital distraction was really kicking in."
Laverne began single-tasking years ago, and says it has helped her stay focused and in control, even when she is frantically busy.
So how do you switch from multiple threads at once to just ticking one thing off the list at a time? There are no shortcuts. It's all about discipline, and practice.
Write an actual list and stick to it.
Follow it. If your list says "check email" and then "prepare report" don't move on to "prepare report" until after you've crossed off "check email". Force yourself to do one thing at a time.
Bonus: If you write down what time it was when you crossed something off, you'll be able to see how long it really takes you to do something when all your energy is focused on it.
Turn off notifications, or at least turn off their sounds.
This is an easy one, if you aren't constantly getting pop-ups telling you something else needs your attention, it will be so, so, so much easier to get one thing done before you move onto the next.
If you are the kind of person who gets anxious about responding to notifications (I am definitely one) give yourself permission to check them, but only after you've finished the task you're working on. Just slot it in before you move onto the next task.
Bonus: When I turned my phone onto total no-vibrate silence, my life changed for the better. Now, with my screen face down when I'm working on something, I have no idea if the outside world is trying to reach me. And the truth is, your Facebook notifications can wait.
Say no (or be prepared to be late).
This one is definitely the hardest. But if you have a big report due on Wednesday, don't agree to go to those drinks on Tuesday, telling yourself you'll have one and then head back to the office to finish off your work.
Stay on task until you're done.
Bonus: After you're done is the time to reward yourself, and be focused on enjoying yourself. Honestly, how fun is that drink going to be if you know you have urgent work due and you have to go back and finish it? Not very. You're just better off giving it a miss.
So, while single-tasking can seem like the hard slog, or like you're getting less done, the truth is you'll find you do more—and that you're more accurate, and more focused on each task as it comes.
As you learn to draw a line under your work and social lives, you also reap the rewards of being more present with friends and family. Less "phubbing" and more fun.
Go on, give it a go.
If you're worried switching to single-tasking will make it seem like you're not busy enough, stop stressing. It's probably just imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head: