There is one lesson that I regard as by far the most important thing when it comes to managing your time and getting things done: DO NOT MULTITASK

I don’t do that! Do your emails come in when you are doing other work? Is your phone by your side when you do other work receiving texts or other notifications? Then you multitask – just check in your phone’s settings for how many times you pick up your phone per day if you don’t believe me!

Each time you get a notification it triggers a strong dopamine response in your brain. Dopamine is a chemical that makes us feel good as it’s usually connected to someone talking to us. From an evolutionary perspective, social interaction is linked to survival (people who were good social animals were more likely to survive if a saber tooth tiger came along) hence the chemical motivator. Most of us don’t have that sort of danger in our lives but interface designers have hacked this ancient signal and use it to get us addicted. If you allow these devices and applications to control your time then you are allowing other people to reduce your productivity and profit from it. YOU MUST RESIST THIS!

Why is multitasking so bad?

Research has highlighted two stages of multi-tasking which create inefficiency: The first stage is known as “goal shifting” (deciding to do one thing instead of another). The second is known as “role activation” (changing from the rules for the previous task to rules for the new task).

When you multitask you flip between the two stages. Each change may take a fraction of a second but if you are doing that all the time it adds up. That time loss becomes greater if the tasks are complex.

Multitasking makes you stupider

It is not just the time loss though as multitasking has been shown to affect our ability to do focused, high-quality work. Stanford University researcher Clifford Nass said, after doing some research on multitasking stated, “We studied people who were chronic multitaskers, and even when we did not ask them to do anything close to the level of multitasking they were doing [normally], their cognitive processes were impaired. So basically, they are worse at most kinds of thinking not only that required for multitasking but also for what we generally think of as involving deep thought

How can you single task?

There are some simple tactics to avoid multitasking. They are not easy to stick to but I have found them very helpful to me:

Batch your work. For example, email: Set your email to only come into your inbox a certain number of times per day. There is a tool called Boomerang for Gmail which allows you to do it and there are settings in other email providers too.

I have mine set to 8:30am each day and block out 8:30-9am to answer emails. Once I sit down to do my emails I don’t stop or look at anything else until I have answered them.

If I come across an email that needs me to do more work or research which will take time, if I can’t complete it in my allotted email time I will write that on my to-do list and do it later in my work time.

If you have a job where you will need to respond more than once a day you could add an additional email answering time in the afternoon, and if you feel that is not responsive enough you could do morning / middle of day / afternoon. If you worry about missing an emergency – don’t! Undoubtedly anyone who really needs you will call.

Block time for quality/deep work: Decide when in your day you are most focussed and can perform “Deep Work”. “Deep Work” is where you get lost in the moment and time passes quickly. This is the time of the day for the work that is most important to you.

Create blocks in your day where you will do certain things and not be interrupted. e.g. Email / Work / Phone time / Spend time with kids.

Train your brain to a single task. It’s hard to get your mind to single-task when you have been multi-tasking for your whole working life! One way to train yourself on this is to go for a walk for 15 minutes and think about one thing or one problem. Each time you drift off and start thinking about something other than that problem, note that you have drifted off and go back to thinking about the one thing. This trains your brain to stay on track with single-tasking and over time, like any skill, you get better at it.

Switch off phone notifications: Create dedicated phone time and switch your phone off / leave it somewhere. If you really can’t do this for some reason you could at least turn off all notifications – as these are distracting and drive you to multitask. Remember, your phone is the enemy of productivity and focus.

Delete personal social media – Remove yourself from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This may sound harsh and isolating but I don’t believe the level of addiction the apps create, as well as the well proven unhappiness, is worth it. You may not be able to do this if you are reliant on these channels to market your business (they are powerful marketing channels precisely because they have addicted the world!), but from a pure productivity point of view, I would delete them.

Bottom line

Do 1 thing at a time. Notifications, social media, and your phone in general is the enemy of productivity so remove them as much as possible.

For those of you as passionate about this topic as I am I recommend these two books for further reading! Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg Deep Work – Cal Newport