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Woman multi-tasking

Can you give up multi-tasking?

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I might be a little late to the game, but I’ve just discovered the concept of single-tasking.

As the name suggest, it’s a complete 180 from the idea of multi-tasking, which I am certain we are all familiar with.

The idea of single-tasking was made famous by The Atlantic‘s health editor, James Hamblin, MD, who explains why focusing on one task at a time – even if it might go against everything we’ve been trained to do – is a good idea in this fun video:

While the world almost demands everyone multi-task in order to keep up with our endless to-do lists, there have been several studies over the years claiming doing so is actually counter-productive. For example, just a three second distraction can badly impact your concentration, causing you to potentially double your mistakes.

Now, I will admit I am crap at multi-tasking. I know I am not giving my full attention to one task and therefore, am not putting out the best work possible. But does that stop me from multi-tasking? Nope.

At the moment, I have 12 tabs open (all relevant, of course) and five programmes running. I am also juggling a Skype conversation with my designer while intermittently catching up with my sister over text message.

On top of that, I’ve got two drafts of stories I am editing, an email that needs to be sent out in the next five minutes, and an interview later this afternoon I am taking a break from preparing for.

And let’s be honest, my current working state isn’t that far removed from yours – in fact, I’m willing to bet you’ve got more on your plate than I do.

So why do we do it? Can we really step back and single-task?

Are you ready to only have one tab open as Hamblin suggests we do, or focus exclusively on one task at a time?

Thanks to the internet and technology, attention spans have decreased dramatically over the past few years. A decade ago, the average attention span was 12 minutes. Now, it is just five seconds.

While I’m not sure I’ll be able to switch from multi-tasking to single-tasking overnight, this is something I am definitely planning to pay more attention too.

It’s going to be rough, but by starting with Hamblin’s suggestion of  practicing what he calls #TablessThursday, I think it might just work out.

Do you have any advice on how to stay more focused while working? How do you keep distractions at bay? Share them with us in the comments below.

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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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