Site icon Dan Silvestre

One Thing at a Time: 7 Ways to Single-Task

one thing at a timeYou have many goals you’d like to achieve. So why would you want to do one thing at a time?

You want to become more productive so you read all these tips online. You find ten that could really change your life. And because you’re excited for the change, you try to start ten habits the same day.

All of us have done it at least once, so you probably know how it ends. You don’t do well at any of them.

That’s why multitasking is counterintuitive. It turns out that the fastest way to achieve everything is to do one thing at a time.

You now know the secret to do more with less. The seven following strategies will show you How.

#1 Context Switching

If you try to go from one activity to another, you’ll still be thinking about the first one. Even if you’re not multitasking, you still need to disconnect from the previous task.

The following tips will help you disconnect from your previous assignment and help you go on:

Here’s the thing:

Make sure you 100% finish the task so you don’t have to switch back later. If you have to backtrack, that’s multitasking.

Once you stop thinking about the previous task, that’s a sign that you’re ready for the next one.

#2 Organize Projects Weekly

Chances are you want to achieve more than one project, preferably all of them at once, ASAP. But if you work on multiple projects, you won’t progress as much as if you only did one.

It’s not that you can’t do it, but you don’t want to progress slower in other areas.

Here’s what we know:

To focus on one thing finish the high-priority project first.

It doesn’t matter what project you like the most. It’s hard to enjoy anything when you’re stressed about an urgent deadline.

That’s why it’s better to do the urgent first and stop worrying about it- you remove or postpone the least important projects.

When two projects follow the same objective, you want to keep whichever gets you there faster and discard the other one. But if you need to do both, you start with the one that will have a greater impact.

You create a backlog on the important ones to reserve more time for the ones you enjoy.

If a project takes a week or less to finish, it’s more relieving to just do it. But the big ones take more time, so you have to plan what to do every day. If you have multiple long projects, you organize them with daily time blocks.

I like planning projects in weeks. It allows you to create bigger time blocks.

Let’s say you really want to do Project B, but you need to meet your targets for Project A this week.

You could work on both every day. Or you can focus on Project A from Monday and work until you finish all the work.

Maybe you finish on Wednesday, or maybe the same Monday. What matters is that after you finish, you can enjoy Project B for the rest of the week. Not only it rewards you for single-tasking, but it encourages you to work as efficiently as possible.

#3 Negotiate With Yourself

You probably do this all the time whether you want it or not. Maybe you’ve decided to focus on your work, but for some reason, you’re barely getting anything done.

That adds to your frustration, and you quickly start to doubt yourself:

“Perhaps I should take the rest of the day off.”

“It’s okay to do something else. I can come back later when I’m more focused and finish the task twice as fast.”

“There’s no point in doing low-quality work. It will probably be so bad that I’ll need to start over again. It’s better to wait until I’m more prepared.”

In short, you feel tempted to stop working and do something else.

If I told you to resist distractions, that wouldn’t be single-tasking. Because you’d still be thinking about them when you work. Instead, what works for me is negotiating:

Do I give myself a treat right now, or do I give myself a bigger one tomorrow?

The second option always looks more attractive, and it makes smaller temptations unappealing.

Maybe you feel like procrastinating right now. But wouldn’t it be more appealing to dedicate a day or two exclusively for your distractions? For me, that’s convincing enough to not get distracted during work time.

If you want to single-task when working, you should also do it when playing.

#4 Don’t Forget The Little Things

The art of doing one thing isn’t just about working. It’s how you do everything, starting from the smaller habits.

Let’s say you’re checking emails and messages when you’re having lunch. It may not seem like a big deal. But when you later try to single-task at work, you’ll find more resistance than usual.

When your lifestyle habits aren’t coherent, you tend to multitask at work.

But the opposite is also true. You get better at single-tasking when you do it with the little things:

So if you find it hard to do one thing at work, start small.

#5 Work With Systems

When you’re not clear on what you need to do, it’s easy to waste time on unclear decisions. Maybe it’s time to work, but your head is worrying about something else. So you’re multitasking mentally.

To stop doing this, you design a productivity system to manage the information:

If you need half an hour to get into work mode, you’ll find a lot of resistance. A good system allows you to start small immediately and scale fast.

#6 Create an Intentional Environment

In what environment do you imagine yourself working? How do you imagine yourself working on different projects, taking a break, or having fun?

Maybe most of your environments are the same (you in front of a computer or phone), and that’s the problem. When you use the same environment to do everything, your brain doesn’t understand its purpose.

Create an intentional environment by :

And for every project, you can customize as much as you want:

#7 Optimize Your Local Environment

Your brain is constantly analyzing the world that’s in front of you. But that can be a bad thing when you only want to focus on your work. So you’re left with these choices:

  1. You spend mental energy by rejecting those distractions you’re aware of
  2. You remove everything except your work equipment

Without distractions, deep work is easy:

Objects Within Your Range

When you sit at your desk, you shouldn’t work near distracting objects.

Here’s what to avoid:

For everything that helps you work, you do the opposite:

Objects Within Your Sight

What’s in front of you can either distract you or help you focus. And because the phone is usually the only distraction, it helps to move it to another room (or at least, put it in a drawer or a bag).

This is also an opportunity to make your goals easier to achieve:

Should You Ever Multitask?

Keep in mind that it’s sometimes good to multitask. If you combine a tedious task with something more engaging (like podcasts and cleaning), that can lead to better results. The trick is that only one should require your attention.

You may also want to switch projects when the main one delays for whatever reason. So if you need to wait three hours before you can move on with your work, don’t just waste that time. Work on your second project instead. And once the first one is available, you get back to it.

With practice, you’ll become an expert at single-tasking. And there are huge benefits:

Whether you prefer to multitask or not, you’ll work much faster if you learn how to single-task first.

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