Mono-tasking: How many rabbits are you chasing?

17/3/2016 |


Can you read this blog without being distracted? No checking email, no responding to that text message “ping”, no running off to fill your coffee cup, no updating your Facebook status…

If you’re having trouble, blame your lack of focus on the eighties (along with those oversized shoulder pads).  Back in the days of classic time management, the advice would have been: “The blog you are about to read is important but not life-altering. You therefore can increase productivity by reading it while doing some filing, participating in a conference call, or perhaps doing some desk stretching exercises.”

Recent research, however, tells us that multi-tasking erodes our productivity. If we don’t start working on our ability to mono-task, we actually may be damaging our brains.

Why can’t we multi-task?

Human beings are not designed to multi-task. We think we can jump easily from one activity to another, but by doing so we force our brains to choose which information to process. It then takes time (on average, 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task following a distraction, like checking a text message.

The result? Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%. Long-term memory, even creativity suffers. But here’s the really scary news — multi-taking is actually making us more stupid. A University of London study showed that those who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced IQ drops similar to what you see in individuals who skip a night of sleep or who smoke marijuana.


So (assuming we’ve still got your attention) how do we strengthen our ability to mono-task?

Clear your head

Our brains love to gather information and respond to stimuli. We all need help capturing and collecting it all, as well as keeping it off of our minds—at least long enough to complete our current task. This is where the value of making to-do lists comes into play. A Productivity Ninja relies on a good list system as a second brain; a place for keeping those ideas and information until you’re ready for them. It’s also a way to keep us focused on creating and doing, rather than just reacting.

We suggest three lists:

  • Daily To-Do Lists: For high priority actions you want to accomplish in one day
  • Project Lists: A high level capture of the key projects to keep sight of
  • Master Actions List: A live inventory of all your projects (without the action steps) so you can see what you need to be doing, or revise over time

Be your own task commando

Distractions are all around you. Stay calm and take charge. With a proper list system in hand, you are in command of your ability to focus.

  • Remind yourself that your goals take priority, not someone else’s
  • Make use of technology to control distractions, turn off alerts, and set a schedule for checking messages
  • Mono tasking means focusing on one thing at a time; stay with one item until completion if you can (try Pomodoro to keep on task)
  • If you start to stray, consider the adage: “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape”

There’s considerable evidence that most productive people pick one high-priority task, complete it, and then move to the next. They do it with finesse and a higher level of accuracy than their multi-tasking colleagues. They may give the appearance of multitasking but they are, in fact, only chasing one rabbit.

Here are some more tips on how to minimize distractions and keep your productivity levels up on a daily basis.

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