Want to Get Ahead? Slow Down.

In the competitive workplace, we must continuously be better than the competition—more productive, more charismatic, and more effective, all in hopes of becoming a more valuable employee. Even outside of work, Americans are trending towards self-betterment—prioritizing healthy eating, exercise, and work/life balance far more than in the recent past.

We all want to be our best self.

But according to Forbes, we’re bettering ourselves to death.

Behind the facade of betterment is a dark truth. Our addiction to focusing on solutions has left us unaware of the tangible barriers to solving our problems. We latch onto habits prescribed to make us better without paying attention to actual results. In the end, we cultivate unhealthy workplace practices that don’t make us better, they make us average. Multitasking is one such habit.

Multitasking has long been in vogue. In the workplace, if you’re not trying to do six things at once, you’re not working hard enough (and your boss will probably tell you so). Taking customer service calls while simultaneously paying client bills in-between checking emails is simply expected.

Inevitably, multitasking leads to missteps. The belief has been that an increase in efficiency makes up for the lack of accuracy. But is multitasking actually efficient?

According to recent studies, it isn’t. In fact, trying to multitask leads to a lack of focus—costing up to 25 minutes of unproductive behavior after every interruption of the task at hand. With only an average of one minute and 15 seconds of productive time between distractions, this means the majority of your day is threatened by lack of productivity.

“Multitasking is to your work what smoking is to your health.”
Becky Kane, Doist)

In Fight Stress, Boost Productivity with Single-Tasking, author Mallory Creveling stresses that our brains may be physically incapable of focusing on more than one activity at a time—and trying to force it to multitask leads to mediocre work product, an increase in stress hormones, and a reduction in energy.

Not only does multitasking result in inefficiencies at work, but it’s also shown to rob us of brain power, actually decreasing our IQ. And for kids the consequences are even worse, affecting long-term learning and impacting the depth of social relationships.

It’s clear multitasking is a bad habit we need to kick. The solution? Going back to the basics—single-tasking.Single-tasking, determinedly focusing on one task at a time, is shown to increase productivity, happiness, and energy. But it’s not easy.

“In a society that places an incredible amount of emphasis on multitasking, it can be difficult to justify to ourselves the benefit of doing one thing at a time.”
Power of Positivity)

Single-tasking will feel counter-intuitive. It will be tempting to fill the mental space you gain by prioritizing and completing tasks efficiently with a quick check of your email or a scroll through your Instagram feed. Fight this temptation. Distracting yourself with another task takes a toll, even when it’s only for a minute.

To stay on track, plan out each day, creating specific time blocks for the different tasks you’d like to achieve. Organize your schedule to have similar tasks close together in the day, to prevent your brain from getting exhausted switching from task to task.

Take breaks between projects.

Studies show that top employees don’t work more hours, they take more breaks. Find out what routine works best for you—are you more productive if you focus for 90 minutes before resting, or is 30 minutes your limit?—and set a timer to keep yourself accountable.

To fight your phone’s addictive pull, try switching your phone to Grayscale, turning off notifications during the workday, or placing your phone inside your desk if it’s too much of a distraction.

Don’t get lost in the crowd of unproductive multitaskers. Stand out with single-tasking (your brain will thank you for it).

Claire Blystra