Single-tasking is Easier and Better than Multitasking

Are you a constant multitasker? Do you feel like you’re wasting time if you’re only doing one thing? What if I told you that there might be an easier and better way to getting the same stuff done, by single-tasking?

This is Part 1 of a three part series discussing why single-tasking is easier and better than multitasking, what it feels like to switch to single-tasking from multitasking, and how to resist the temptations of multitasking to stick with single-tasking once you’ve made the switch.

When thinking about getting stuff done, one way to visualize time is as a two-dimensional resource. On the X-Axis, time is a linear space that progresses by the usual clock: seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, months, days, and years. The Y-Axis is the stack of stuff, manifesting as tasks, that you’re trying to get done.

In addition to the two-dimensional space itself, the continum of how that space is filled might be pretty choppy, if you’re multitasking, since you’re switching between tasks constantly within the space itself. The spectrum I just described might look a little something like this if you’re a multitasker, like I used to be –

single-tasking multitasking

I don’t know about you but my head starts to hurt just looking at this.

I used to be one of the most ardent multitaskers around and now am happy to say “used to be” 🙂

Since switching to single-tasking my time spectrum now looks more like this –

single-tasking multitasking

My head hurts less when looking at this and hopefully yours does too, otherwise this probably isn’t the post for you 😉

When I was mulitasking, if a time block had been allocated as my own personal work time, multitasking would consist of constantly switching among tasks in my To-Do list, trying to simultaneously push as many along as possible, as I raced to check as many tasks off the list as possible, before the personal work time window would expire.

If the time block had been allocated to client work, multitasking would mean trying to simultaneously push along multiple tasks toward completion, within the same project simultaneously, while concurrently checking multiple communication channels for up to the minute updates or inputs.

If the time block had been allocated as personal free time, multitasking meant simultaneously trying to read a book while listening to music while exercising, or rushing through whatever it was I was trying to enjoy at the moment, while already planning the next activity that I was anticipating.

This multitasking approach to getting stuff done became a major cause of an internal pressure structure taking shape in my mind and body that generated a consistently high and unhealthy level of tension in my mind and body. I used this tension to then general a counteractive force, which was used to generate the massive amount of energy that was required to keep this multitasking train rolling.

I look back on that time and envision the cycle that developed as similar riding one of those stationary bikes that you rarely seen anyone riding at the gym, called a Schwinn Airdyne. The Airdyne has a fan as the front wheel, which causes the resistance to constantly increase as you consistently pedal harder.

multitasking single-tasking

From the description of the Airdyne on Schwinn’s website – “The Airdyne® Exercise Bike is simply smart. Wind resistance is exponential, so the harder you pedal, the higher the resistance becomes.”

So, if you’re also experiencing the stress and tension from multitasking, and want to get off the Airdyne, the good news is that research shows that there’s an easier and better way to get the same stuff done, through GASP…single-tasking.

I KNOW, IMPOSSIBLE, right???? At least that’s what I was thinking when I first came across these studies 🙂

If the stress and tension you’re experiencing from multitasking isn’t enough motivation to try single-tasking and you need further convincing, this infographic is also pretty telling –

multitasking single-tasking

The article that particularly awakened me to the possibility that single-tasking might be not just an easier but also a better way of getting stuff done was a study of Italian judges that can be found here. The study questioned the effectiveness of multi-tasking and planted the seed in my mind that learning to do one thing at a time might actually be an easier and better way of getting stuff done.

So if after years of multitasking, the multitasking approach is beginning to feel unbearable and unsustainable, why don’t you try giving single-tasking a shot?