One thing at a time: A new (not-so) secret productivity weapon
Are you a serial multi-tasker?
Before you answer, do this quick check: How many items do you have open on your computer right now? If you need two hands to list them all, you probably fit the bill!
Don’t worry, though, you’re not alone. With so much information coming at us, multi-tasking has become an accepted – even encouraged practice – in today’s work world.
So, why is the idea of unitasking – the one-thing-at-a-time approach to task completion – becoming all the rage?
Brain research shows it is difficult for us to do two things at one time (go figure!). Researchers from the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Illinois at Chicago monitored brain activity while viewing an image that required mental rotation, all while listening to a sentence stating a fact. Subjects were then quizzed on what they saw and heard. Brain activity doing each task separately was 56 percent higher than when both tasks were conducted at the same time!
If you’re looking to boost your concentration and productivity, we’ve pulled together a few unitasking ideas to get you (and your team) started:
- Focus. When you make your to-do list for the day, organize it in most- to least-important order. Start with the thing that is most critical – and do only that until it is complete. Give your team the logo’d Perforated Notepad, so they can literally tear through their to-do lists every day!
- Chunk your day. When possible, block work time in large chunks, so you can start and finish a task before it’s time for your next meeting.
- Schedule interruptions. Proactively set aside time through the course of your day for interruptions. Use these five- to 15-minute windows to get caught up on e-mail, take in your RSS feeds or check Twitter. Make a stash of logo’d 99 Minute Timers or Tiny Tot Magnetic Timers available in your offices and encourage your team to grab one and set it if they think they’re likely to spend more time than they want on one of these tools.
- Tune in to the task at hand. While an open door policy works wonders for communication, it can also represent a regular opportunity for team members to pop by and chat. Signal when you are busy at work by closing your door or popping in your earphones (listen to something that doesn’t require you to pay attention). Imprint the Flat Flexible Magnet Stop Sign or Plastic Door Hanger with the phrase ‘Unitasker at Work’ and encourage team members to display the magnet at times they need to work without interruption.
- Send blood to the brain. When you have completed a task or feel mentally fatigued, take a break and stretch. Bending at the waist and holding the position for 30 seconds sends blood to your brain. (Side benefit: This stretch can also help decrease stress.) The physical movement helps you clear your mind for the next task at hand. Share the Relaxing Rituals books with your entire team to give them other ideas for refocusing their minds.
One step at a time
If you’re a serial multi-tasker, you don’t need to change your ways all at one time. Instead, try adding one or two of these tips to your routine every couple of weeks. Find the ones that add to your already productive work style – or create your own – to find deep concentration and high productivity!