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Happiness Tip: Do Just One Thing

Multitasking talent is nothing to brag about.

If we just focused on one task at a time, we’d actually be more productive in the long run, and we’d be less exhausted at the end of the day. This is because multitasking exhausts more energy and time than single-tasking does. Take it from productivity experts Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy:

Distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another — stopping to answer an email or take a phone call, for instance — increased the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25 percent, a phenomenon known as “switching time.”

It is often harder for me to single-task than it is to multi-task. I have to totally remove all distractions to single-task: I do my best writing at a desk I’ve set up in a large closet that doesn’t get phone reception, with my email disabled. I group my daily tasks into two categories: “Think Work” and “Action Items.” Then I block off time on my calendar for both things. I do my Think Work at the closet desk totally uninterrupted, setting a timer so that I take a break every 60-90 minutes.

My Action Items take less focus, but I still tackle them one at a time in sequence — not parallel. Unless I’m working my way through my email, my email application is closed. I answer the phone only for scheduled calls. I leave my iPhone in do-not-disturb mode (so that I can see if my kids’ school is calling, but that’s about it) and reply to texts when I’m taking a break. Having these “rules” for myself has dramatically increased my productivity.

Take Action: If you are a chronic multi-tasker, make a plan for how you can focus more and multitask less. Do you need to remove distractions? Group similar activities?

Join the Discussion: What works best for you? Inspire others by leaving a comment.