The Productive, Sexy, Zen Life Of ‘Single Tasking’

The Productive, Sexy, Zen Life Of ‘Single Tasking’

Can something as simple as single tasking at work make you super productive, twice as sexy and give you a Zen-like magnetism?

With technology, open plan offices, web-based chats, availability of information and research at your fingertips – multitasking has become every adrenaline junkie’s dream. Modern Gen Y ninjas with superhero powers, can deflect, consult, answer, tweet, ALT tab, listen to music and finish a spreadsheet within deadline, all at the same time. They almost know nothing different.

After years of research, multitasking now has a reputation for all the wrong reasons. This popular form of task management actually reduces productivity, leads to burnout, puts stress on the brain and can create a culture that feels chaotic.

Due to the construct of most jobs and the expectation of responsiveness, the ultimate challenge for employees is to stop multitasking and start unit tasking or single tasking. Urgent calls come through, a colleague has a crisis, a client has an emergency or the CEO calls for urgent information and yes, we respond accordingly. While genuinely urgent issues do arise, if you haven’t changed the structure of your day to create more single-tasking blocks of time, you should be looking forward to a more productive, streamlined, Zen-like world ahead of you. Test its success by delaying that “urgent” request by an hour and watch as people respect your focused single-tasking time.


The research is in. The brain is not capable of handling more than one thing at a time effectively. When your brain undergoes a regime of multiple tasks, this powerhouse of muscle can become stressed and more prone to error. This is ultimately less productive. Interestingly, when your brain is constantly jumping from one thing to another, focus is affected.

Studies indicate that when the brain to switch contexts from one activity to another, 15-20% of our time and productive brainpower is wasted. If you think of your brain as a tank of petrol and decide to waste 20% of it, you’ll have far less fuel to reach your final destination.

If you have not read the book Scrum by Jeff Sutherland yet, get your self a copy. The Scrum methodology is more than just single tasking. It has the theory of doing tasks in units at its core. The book advocates doing tasks in “sprints’ or uninterrupted blocks of time. The method produces amazing results and has Fortune 500 companies, governments and even military departments intrigued. This method is revolutionizing the way we work and produce results.

Confidence is the new sexy

Single tasking helps us become ultra productive, achieve goals, create confidence and build meaning into our work. Using this method we reduce the scatter-brained flurry of multitasking and achieve goals effectively. When this happens, we radiate inner strength and self-belief. This equates to confidence. Confidence is sexy and is alluring to men and women, the world over. Read any book on improving sex appeal and you will always find self-confidence is an important factor. Self- confidence is key and while the office is not Tinder, (nor should it be), there is nothing as empowering as sexy, radiant self-confidence.

You don’t need an important title to achieve this kind of sexy confidence. There are two ways to get it:

#1 Via external status. E.g. An important title, money or responsibility. Think of it as an external reference as is often referred to as the “power of agency.”

#2 Via inner strength.

The great thing about inner strength is that you have that you don’t need a fancy title to hold the attention of your audience.

The Zen Life

If you are a high level multitasker (four or more media going at one time), regaining focus might be a challenge. Stanford Professor Clifford Nass reports that the brain physically changes with high level multitasking, making focus a challenge.

Break multitasking habits with the simple act of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation and the antithesis of multitasking. It makes us 100% present with all of our senses and focused on a single task. When we practice mindfulness, we relieve stress, tap into creative sources in the brain and are better able to empathize with each another. Mindfulness helps us transform, increases behavioral flexibility and improves our ability to focus.

Get into a sexy, productive Zen life by trying the following:

  1. Try 90-minute intervals of unit tasking at a time: Research shows our brains are in “premium mode” within 90 minutes of focus and then this mode starts to decline.
  2. Remove distraction: Remove visual, audio and vibrate alerts, close down all apps and set mini goals for this 90-minute period.
  3. Put up “walls” in the office: Metaphorically. In my open plan office, I established a “walls are up” expression. It wasn’t rude, in fact we laughed about it. If you have a deadline and need to “single-task it” until finished, a supportive team should respect when “the walls are up.” It may not be realistic for those ‘virtual walls’ to be up all day, but this works perfectly for blocks of time and effective in getting stuff done.
  4. Break it down: Some tasks are too big to tackle without devoting time to other responsibilities. Create mini projects. Tackle the most important tasks first and do not move onto anything else until the first priority is 100% finished. You will become a productivity guru.
  5. Discipline and organisation: Discipline is key. Start with small blocks of single tasks and build from there. Multitaskers are always open to communication – ping me, ring me, email me anytime. When you change to single tasking, organize yourself and let others know. If you need to, create an ‘out of office’ for half the day. Sign out of your apps so that people see that you are not signed in. Try to defer that ‘urgent’ request by 90 minutes and watch as you are still able to get the most valuable tasks completed.
  6. Mindfulness: There are plenty of free resources on the Internet for learning more about becoming more mindful and how you can amp up your focus. Anyone can practice this ancient way of thinking. Once you delve into the practice of mindfulness, you’ll be surprised by how many ultra successful people use this discipline to positively impact their careers.

Molly Green is an executive and career coach and creator of the program Everyone Wants to Hire You.
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