Thoughts on productivity,
communication and tech.

One thing at a time – an important technique for higher productivity

May 13, 2012  

Even if you are great at what you do, there are several obstacles that can prevent you from doing great work on any given day.

Multitasking is one source of such obstacles.

Multitasking, in this context, means working on more than one thing at a time.

Problems with multitasking

A person who is multitasking is repeatedly moving his/her attention between different tasks. This necessarily causes a lot of interruptions.

For example, let’s say that you are writing a document and have your e-mail open in the background. In the middle of a sentence, an e-mail arrives. So you stop writing and start reading and then replying to the e-mail.

In the middle of answering the e-mail, you get a phone call about a completely different issue. When the phone call is done, you get back to the e-mail. Because of the phone interruption, it takes some time to get started again.

Once you’re done with the e-mail, you decide to get back to the document. Now, because of the previous interruptions, you need some time to get back into your writing flow. In fact, at this time, it is possible that you have completely forgotten what you were supposed to write next in the document.

Because of these kinds of interruptions, it takes longer to complete tasks than it would take otherwise.

Multitasking is also hard. It takes effort to constantly move one’s attention back and forth between tasks and it is easy to feel tired and stressed out.

One thing at a time

In my opinion, it is better to try to avoid multitasking as much as possible. Instead, try to work on one thing at a time with full attention and focus. And when you are done, move on to the next thing and focus solely on that. For this to work, it is important to prioritize correctly and to choose the right thing to work on before starting.

Working on just one thing at a time may not be possible for everyone. For example, if your job requires you to answer phone calls and e-mails quickly, then it is obviously not a good idea to turn off your phone and your e-mail to focus on other stuff. However, I do believe that many can take at least some steps away from multitasking.

To me, the benefits of doing one thing at a time are evident: it’s far easier to get more and better work done, it is less stressful and less draining compared to multitasking.