Just ONE Thing at a Time: Solotask, Don’t Multitask!

Just One Thing SNAIL

This week we’re taking a quick look at the modern phenomenon of multitasking!

Do you:

  • Message friends and check social media while watching a movie?
  • Try to eat your lunch and send emails while on a Zoom call?
  • Check the bus schedule for tomorrow at the same time as cooking dinner and listening to a podcast?

How does this feel? Really?

A core Fierce Kindness principle is doing just ONE thing at a time.

Humans can’t actually multitask

While computers can multitask (it’s called parallel processing), humans can’t.

We may think we can, but what we’re actually doing is switching very fast between all the different activities.

Think for a moment about how it feels when you’re multitasking:
  • Is it relaxing?
  • How well did you do what you were doing?
  • How stressed or jittery do you feel?
  • How connected to yourself do you feel?
  • How do you feel at the end of the day?

Instead what we’re doing is called task switching!

And it’s stressful!

It’s been proven that trying to do several tasks at once causes our brains to work overtime. Each time you switch to a different task your brain has to figure out what you want it to do now, the new rules, goals and parameters and adjust before it even starts the different task.

It may only take half a second, but this extra processing when done repeatedly puts extra strain on your brain.

There are many reasons we multitask:

  1. Out of habit
  2. Following every impulse without stopping to think
  3. Intentionally trying to get more done
  4. Out of fear (especially FOMO – Fear of Missing Out)
  5. Occasionally out of necessity…

Yet there are only a few professions that truly require us to multitask—maintaining focus on several things at once. Doctors and nurses in emergency departments, live television producers, traffic controllers, event managers. And some customer service jobs, where people are expected to maintain quality ‘live chats’ with several people all at once. All these jobs are higher stress as a result.

Why multitasking is bad for us

Multitasking has been proven less efficient (all that time and energy wasted switching between tasks and adjusting), more stressful and more prone to errors.

In fact David Meyer, part of a team at the University of Michigan behind a study into Multitasking and Task Switching says that:

“Multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline, which can cause long-term health problems if not controlled, and contributes to the loss of short-term memory.”

Not only that but Meyer also says our short-term memory is impacted when we multitask, because we have less processing power available to store memories.

And we can also fall into the habit of an adaptive behaviour called continuous partial attention. At its worst, this impacts our ability to be in the present moment. We get impatient and easily bored, find it harder to absorb information, reflect and make good decisions. Life can become unsatisfying and unfulfilling because we’re never fully here…

Instead, consider how calm your brain is when doing “just one thing at a time”. Imagine the luxury and delight of just doing one task and not trying to stay on top of several…

My path to solotasking – just one thing at a time

Multitasking is a badge of pride for many of us. The culture of doing more, achieving, measuring, comparing. It means we keep trying to squeeze more in to the time we have. But it’s unproductive.

What set me on the path to solotasking – was that my brain was fried at the end of every day. I didn’t want to do anything in the evenings. Sometimes my brain was so overstimulated I couldn’t even read a book or watch TV.

Then I noticed when doing yoga, that my favourite part was Shavasana! Who knew that just lying there could be so refreshing? My brain became calm and clear, and I began to realise that the way I was working was super-stressful.

In the beginning it was tough to stop multitasking—it had become a deep-set habit. But over time, with prioritising, solotasking and reducing/removing distractions my brain is much happier.

Recently I slipped (twice)! Two Mondays in a row I had three different newsletters to write (with corresponding articles to finalise) all in one day. I wanted to ensure I got it all done so I overlapped tasks, getting email done while I waited for apps to open, checking things while I waited for the email deliverability results. And what happened? I made mistakes in two newsletters that went out to 50,000+ people! And in the evening I was completely frazzled. It was a great reminder.

Just one thing at a time SQUARE smaller

Here are 9 Ways to Help You Solotask

  1. Make a commitment to yourself. Remember how it feels to do just one thing at a time. And contrast that with how it feels when you’re juggling 5 things at once…
  2. Turn off distractions: text and email alerts, phone ringers. Close down apps you’re not using—especially social media and internet browsers. Put your cellphone out of sight (unless you actually need it for what you’re doing!).
  3. Get clear not just on your tasks, but on your priorities, at the start of every single day.
    1. Start the day with your highest priority tasks.
    2. Consider having separate lists for different areas of your life.
    3. Allocate time slots for your most important tasks—especially those likely to overrun.
    4. Set an alarm if needed to help you stay on track.
  4. Be gentle with yourself. When you notice the urge to do something else, take a deep breath, kindly notice and acknowledge the urge, then return to your (solo) task.
    • Give yourself a pat on the back for catching yourself!
    • If necessary take a look at your priority list and remind yourself what you’re doing and why.
    • Only catch yourself after you’ve switched to another task? Again, just gently notice. Whoops! Now return to your task.
  5. Allow/build in time to wrap-up previous tasks before moving on to the next one. This can be so calming and helpful!
  6. Stay alert by building in breaks to your workday.
    • An eye refresh by looking into the distance out of a window—or get up and walk around—every 30 mins.
    • Get outside at lunchtime—even if just for 15 mins.
    • Give yourself permission to pause and relax those shoulders, give your arms a shake when you notice you’re feeling tense.
  7. Then check in with yourself regularly—so you stay at your best and are less likely to distract yourself. Do I need the bathroom? A stretch? Some fresh air? Am I thirsty, hungry, in need of a brain break?
  8. Keep a notepad handy, and when you catch yourself heading into “multitask world” or worrying about something else that needs doing, WRITE IT DOWN, knowing that you’ll come back to it later.
  9. Check your priority list (and notepad mentioned above) throughout the day eg. whenever you take a break, and be prepared to adjust timing/move tasks out as needed.

Fierce Kindness LogoWrap-up

When our brains are doing just one thing at a time we’re happier. Period.

My favourite solotasking activity is gardening. My brain always feels so happy working in my garden – just one task, no devices, no apps, no meetings and no-one interrupting.

When I solotask, I feel clear, calm and peaceful. I stop rushing, slow down and take more care. I get more done, with fewer errors – and enjoy it more. I make better decisions and absorb information more easily. And lastly I’m more connected to myself and my needs, so that I feel better at the end of the day.

This is one great way to be super-fiercely-kind to yourself: remember, you’re worth it!

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  1. Janet L. Brown

    This article was very helpful, now I know why I am frustrated when I multitask. Thank you for helping me to take time to think about the task and organize it into what’s important for me to get done and complete.

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Dear Janet, so glad you found this article helpful! And thank-you for taking the time to comment 🙂 Em x

  2. Donna Davis

    This whole email and the ‘gifts’ within are so needed!!!! What an insightful and thoughtful way to start my week. I appreciate you and your wonderful emails! Blessings!

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Dear Donna, thank-you so much for taking the time to comment! I’m so glad you enjoy our emails and resources!
      Keep up all your good work!
      Love Emma-Louise x


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