One task at a time: the back-to-basics recipe for success

One task at a time. It’s the new, back-to-basics recipe for success. This article is a quick reminder to you of why it’s such a powerful approach.

The benefits of focusing on one task at a time

Do you enjoy feeling in control, focused, and deeply engaged with your work? If so, work on one task at a time.  

It’s what the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called the ‘flow state’ (you might know it as ‘being in the zone’!). It is being fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

You can only ‘flow’ when you’re focused on one task at a time.

The dangers of multitasking

When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually just task-switching. Constantly switching our focus backwards and forwards between two tasks. And every time we switch attention, we have to refocus on the task.

That is what the brain is very good at doing – quickly diverting its attention from one place to the next. We think we’re being productive. We are, indeed, being busy. But in reality, we’re simply giving ourselves extra work.

Michael Harris, writer

All this switching backwards and forwards of our attention, our focus, has a significant cost.

When we multitask, our stress levels increase, our productivity decreases, and the quality of our work decreased.

When we focus on one task at a time, our stress levels reduce, our productivity increases, and the quality of our work increases.

Reacquaint yourself with a little planning

Taking a little time to plan is not a bad thing. But too often we forget that. We’re all doing, no planning. It’s exhausting and unproductive.

Take a little time and plan your week and plan each day. Ask yourself:

  • What are my goals for this coming week (or day)?
  • What are the tasks that I must complete to achieve these goals?
  • What order should I tackle them in?

Sometimes, it’s as simple as making a to-do list. Then work through your to-do’s (one at a time!).

Remove your distractions

And as you’re working, make sure your set-up to minimize distractions. Consider using the Pomodoro technique to carve out discreet chunks of focused time and explore how to regain control when you’re overloaded at work.

One task at a time quotes

Still don’t believe in the value of doing one task at a time? Look at what all these people have to say on the topic…

When you focus on just one thing at a time, without rushing or procrastinating, you cultivate a sense of timeless awareness that creates feelings of calm and well-being.

Deepak Chopra

The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.

Mozart

Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.

Sir Winston Churchill

Be like a postage stamp — stick to one thing until you get there.

Josh Billings

Not everything matters equally, and success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most. Yet that is exactly how most play it on a daily basis.

Gary Keller

If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one.

Russian proverb

Successful people know they need to get many things done – and done effectively. Therefore, they concentrate their time and energy on doing one thing at a time.

Peter Drucker

In conclusion

It’s simple, good sense. Don’t succumb to the temptations of multi-tasking. Create a work environment in which you can single-task, without distractions. Make sure you…

Focus on one task at a time.

You’ll get more done, more quickly. The quality of the work you do will be higher. You’ll be less stressed and more satisfied.

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