Single-tasking; Is it the way forward?

If you ‘google’ Single-tasking you get a ton of links that tell you how much more productive you will be, from a work perspective if you single task. On the other hand, we live in an age where everything is faster and everyone is trying to be busier than each other and if we are not trying to do at least two things at once, we are failing. I’ve been thinking about single tasking recently, as I’ve noticed more and more how difficult I find it. I watch an episode of my favourite TV programme while folding washing. I send emails while I eat my lunch, I tidy the kitchen while eating my breakfast, I look at the social media while watching TV. In fact, anytime where I am only doing one thing feels like a waste of time. Not only does this seem really unhealthy, but it means I don’t always do anything well.

The more I think about it, the more I feel as though I need to re-train my brain to just do one thing at a time. For example, last night I watched a film. I started by also repairing a cushion cover, but came to the end of what I could really do for a while and so put it down. I had intentionally left my phone in another room, so I would get to bed at a reasonable time. So, I found myself, alone and doing nothing other than watching the film and it felt really very strange. My hands fidgeted, I found myself feeling restless and it was really hard to immerse myself in what I was watching. My mind kept wandering to things I have to do this week, this month, next month. The same thing happened to me when I went for a massage earlier in the week. Switching off and just focussing on one thing was really hard. We seem to have come to the point where we over stimulate ourselves so much, in a quite passive way, that we can no longer just do one thing or is it just me? Come on, be honest, I know it isn’t….

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Although actually, it seems, from doing a little digging that we don’t usually multi-task at all. We are task-switching. This sounds really familiar to me. I may think I can tweet, watch TV and check emails at the same time, but so often I find a whole episode of something has finished and I don’t really remember any of it. It’s just been a background noise. I am making it sound as though all I want to do is watch TV and watch it well and that’s not the case. In fact, I think the idea of single-tasking makes us really decide what we want to do most, rather than just trying to do it all at the same time and doing none of it in a fulfilling way.  So, if I am not going to give the TV my focus, does this actually mean I am not bothered about watching it and should really be doing something else.

Sometimes multi tasking the dull bits of the day seems like a good thing. It can make those mundane tasks easier to power through. For example my new habit of watching something on iplayer when folding washing. Although, I do wonder if that’s not a really sad way to catch up with my favourite TV and in any case, wouldn’t folding washing without any entertainment give me some much needed quiet time. Some mental space, if you like.

Perhaps the most difficult part of single-tasking isn’t going to be the actual doing of one thing at a time, but the mental multi-tasking that has become so ingrained in my way of thinking. One of my favourite Instagrammers did a great hashtags project last week called #whatdoesmummydoallday. It was a great way of shown her girls what she really does all day. The part that I found most interesting was the way her brain was always multi-tasking. While she was doing one or even two things, she was also thinking about something else on her ‘to-do’ list. It was so familiar to me. I do this all the time and it can tip from thinking about stuff that needs doing to anxiety about the stuff of life. For me it can anyway. I think that could also be why I try to multi-task, to over-stimulate. So that I don’t have the brain space to overthink.

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Sometimes multi-tasking is essential, like when making risotto and holding a child
Whatever the reason, whether it’s trying to block out negative thoughts or simply get as much done in the shortest time possible, I have trained myself to multi-task or at least attempt to multi-task too often. I am going to try a bit more single-tasking in my life. One thing and one thing only and then move onto the next thing. I suspect the art of single-tasking is under used and much needed for many of us.

What about you? Do you think multi-tasking is detrimental to you and if so have you tried any methods to retrain yourself to single-task?

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