Single-Task Your Way to Sanity During Shelter-in-Place
These are stressful times - sheltering in place while living 24/7 with family members who are trying to work, supervise online education for kids, and stay healthy during a global pandemic. While it may seem ideal to throw a load of laundry in while you are on a conference call and simultaneously checking on kids to prevent a sibling brawl, doing it all is stressful.
Multitasking used to be a sought-after professional competency, thought to be a valuable skill for the busy professional. Research tells us that single-tasking is actually more effective and can result in higher productivity and time efficiency.
I can envision the woman working at home reading this blog while eating her lunch, checking her e-mail, listening to a webinar, and texting her daughter about her online math assignment in the next room. In the reality of the 24/7 shelter-in-place scenario – who has enough time to single-task?
We understand the danger of texting while driving, yet we knowingly overload our brains with multiple tasks that lead us to a cluttered life and a growing list of unattainable daily demands that cause stress. Alas, there is hope for me, and the myriad of multitaskers that long for a simpler and more productive life. Breathe deeply and read on!
The human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. It is common for people to task switch – to move rapidly and ineffectively among tasks.
Under this strategy, performance suffers and attention shifts back and forth, as reported by Dr. Eyal Ophir, a neuroscientist from Stanford University, an expert cited in Devora Zack’s book on single-tasking.
Simplicity of single-tasking.
Focusing on one thing until it’s completed allows you to concentrate fully, and often to complete the task at hand faster and more accurately than if you were juggling multiple projects.
For example, try and schedule blocks of time when you respond to or compose e-mails during your workday, instead of spending precious time throughout the day on e-mail. The scheduled time blocks will free you up to do other things and teach your audience (personal and professional) about your boundaries and response time.
[Related: How to Confidently Say "No" at Work]
Control your environment.
I used to be like a Pavlovian dog with a visceral response to the audio ping of a new e-mail, a text, or a meeting request on my Outlook calendar.
Devora Zack, authored SingleTasking: Get More Things Done, One Thing at a Time and explains in this video how easy it is to control your environment and eliminate, or at least minimize the visual and audio stimuli that cause you to lose focus on multitasking opportunities.
Be more mindful.
Diane Sieg is a mindfulness practitioner, speaker, and author who shared:
Stress reduction and mindfulness don’t just make us happier and healthier, they’re a proven competitive edge that affect your bottom line.
Mindfulness reduces the cost of employee turnover and sick leave, increases performance and productivity, and helps you feel energized more of the time according to statistics by the iOpener Institute.
According to Stieg:
Mindfulness is a simple concept — the practice of being aware of your experiences in the present moment.
Single-tasking is a great strategy for the practice of mindfulness.
Single-task to weight loss.
I love the concept of the slow food movement, where meals are prepared by hand as an artisanal culinary experience. Farm-to-table honors the sustainability of local agriculture with seasonal and newly harvested ingredients, but when was the last time you really tasted your food? Have you ever eaten lunch at your desk or wolfed down something in between meetings and didn’t take the time to enjoy – or even taste your food?
Honor your body and single-task the next time you ingest food or drink. Experience eating with all five senses and make enjoying your food a single task.
Chances are you will slow the eating process, become full faster, and eat less in the long run. Single-tasking may just help you shed a few pounds without any extra work!
Less is more.
As a self-described over-achiever, multitasking was my way to prove my value, and was I ever wrong! It’s not about working harder – it’s about working smarter, and being busy does not equate with being important or valuable.
Let go of the busy-ness of multitasking and allow yourself to focus on fewer things and do them extraordinarily well instead of doing many things in a mediocre fashion.
Reclaim your life.
A friend with three teenage kids has a house rule that all digital devices are put in a basket and shut off during family meal times. This digital detox allows the family to be fully present and experience the single task of eating together while enjoying each other’s company.
By setting boundaries, you teach others how to treat you and take back the control over your time and how you choose to spend it.
Consider how you can begin to reclaim precious time by single-tasking and staying more in the moment, whether at work or with loved ones. Single-tasking empowers better active listening, more authentic experiences, and heightened focus on one task at a time.
I’m a single-tasking work in progress, but even my initial baby steps have reduced my stress and helped me focus on what matters. Be kind to yourself, especially during the new abnormal of sheltering in place.
Give yourself permission to slow down and tackle one thing at a time. You deserve it!
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community College system and contributes to Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, Medium, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. Her online video series about career and life empowerment for women is on YouTube. Caroline hosts the three-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life, on iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Professional Speaker and Executive Coach
Caroline Dowd-Higgins - Career Consultant
For 20 years, I've been an influencer in the career & professional development arena. I authored the book and maintain the blog: “This Is Not The Career I Ordered®” (now in the 2nd edition and translated in Chinese) which showcases my savvy career coaching and women who are thriving after a career transition or reinvention. As Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections, I lead a statewide movement at Ivy Tech Community College to... Continue Reading
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