How to Maintain a Singular Focus and Maximize Your Productivity

Multitasking actually decreases your efficiency. Here's how to stop juggling multiple tasks at once.
April 19, 2012

Think you get more done by running your day like a three-ring circus act, juggling 10 things at once like most business owners do? Think again. Multitasking does not solve the problem of too much to do in too little time. In fact, it slows you down.

Studies have shown that people who multitask are far less efficient, taking up to 30 percent longer to complete the tasks with twice as many errors. Because the brain is designed to work best when focused on a single task, switching between tasks means it has to forget the rules of the first task and apply the rules of the new task. That’s where the brain gets bogged down and starts making mistakes, not to mention the inefficiencies and potential tangents that go along with switching back and forth between tasks.

For example, I used to switch back and forth between working on projects and checking e-mail. Before I knew it, I was ignoring my project and responding to e-mail after email. Instead, I should have focused on my task until it was done and then checked my e-mail. Single focus means no time is wasted remembering where you were in the process of completing your task, repeating steps that you worry you may have overlooked or getting back into the flow of the project.

With that mind, here are three techniques to help you maintain your focus and get your tasks done efficiently.

1. Finish what you start

Starting and stopping causes you to lose the most time, and can result in troubling loose ends. Get in the habit of always finishing what you start whether it’s clearing out your inbox or writing a project proposal.

This is probably the toughest habit to break, but the most worthwhile. Our technology-driven work world means that we have become accustomed to immediately respond to every notification. Get comfortable with ignoring things while you focus.

2. Set a daily priority list

Limit your daily to-do list to two or three must-finish projects or tasks. Not only does this help curb your temptation to switch between tasks, it prevents you from feeling overwhelmed by a long to-do list.

Wondering what to do with the overabundance of small things on your to-do list? Put quick tasks on a batch list and schedule a work block in your calendar to complete them.

3. Turn off distractions

Mute all the beeps, bells and flashing reminders that tempt you into switching away from your single task. Designate specific times of day that you will check in and respond to e-mail and voicemail and let people know when they can expect to hear back from you.

Turning off the distractions also means clearing off those piles of papers covering your desk, cleaning up the desktop of your computer and shutting down anything else that draws your attention from the task at hand.

Try implementing these steps for yourself to see if you get more done, and share the tips with your team. If you're like many small business owners, you've surrounded yourself with other people who can wear more than a few hats. But it can be a more productive team if each member tries wearing only one hat at a time.

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