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Single-Tasking for Teams = Higher Productivity. Here’s How to Get There

Written by Ralitsa Golemanova

You think you can multitask? Think again, while reading this article, choosing another song on Spotify, checking your email and picking up the phone.

Did it work? I bet you got so far in reading that you are at the third sentence of this text.

Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell calls multitasking a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.”

But in reality, we can’t. We only live with the illusion that productivity comes by doing seven things in the same time and thinking about ten more.

By the way, this is how our brain looks on multitasking. It’s disheartening. 

This persistent illusion we owe to computer engineering. Computers multitask; people don’t.

If we weren’t so busy multitasking, we would have had the time to read the research that shows multitasking takes twice as much time to complete the same tasks, and with much more errors. And it decreases our productivity with 40%.

That’s why reinventing how teams work starts with establishing single-tasking for yourself and your team members. But how to achieve that in a world so mesmerized with that mythical multitasking?

Let’s look at the second piece in our series on how to make teamwork work and demystify productivity. With these three main tips, you can improve your own concentration and productivity, and inspire your team to follow that path.

(And don’t forget to check out the first piece, The Secret Sauce for Task Management for Teams).  

#1. Focused concentration

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We’ve spent the last decades believing we are superhumans, or something closer to machines, so we can handle multiple streams of information simultaneously. Not only that, but we’ve believed that we can process them and pull out results.

We’ve paid for sustaining the illusion that multitasking means productivity with countless wasted hours, skyrocketing stress, and sometimes even with our sanity (hello, burnout).

So why not choose single-tasking instead? Rather than switching between tasks (the real way in which multitasking functions), you can work on increasing your concentration because this is where you can hit the flow.

Reaching that state of unification with your activity and complete immersion into it is where you can find your highest productivity and brightest ideas. And in this mindspace, you and your team can finally find enjoyment and satisfaction, which can then feed into your group motivation and long-term achievements.   

How to get that precious focused concentration? Here are the essential tips:

  • Identify a few tasks for the day, aligned with your team’s goals
  • Get rid of distractions by postponing calls and muting your phone
  • Focus on one task at a time
  • Check your email twice per day and dedicate special time to answering emails

#2. Blocking chunks of time

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A tried and true method for saving your brain from multitasking is to block periods of time for certain activities and isolating the rest of the work and various conversations.

In this way, you can practice focused concentration without receiving a million other notifications and requests. But, to make this work in a noisy office with a bunch of teammates, you need perseverance, a solid rock sense of humor and a few tricks.

We all know that noise-cancelling headphones are a savior sent from the skies, but if you can’t work while listening to music (like myself), there are other ways to go about it.

And it’s not the easy way, but it will bring benefit to everybody on your team. Yes, you have to persuade everybody to adapt the system of blocking chunks of time for concentrated work, meetings, one-on-one’s and all the other various activities in an office. It’s all about getting a common structure, which, being far from rigidity, can save all of you a ton of time and nerves.

 

It does take time, but people get used to the idea of respecting other’s private space and time. You can find a funky way that matches your team’s dynamics to announce when somebody is ‘in the zone,’ so others can stay away for an hour and let that person dig deep into his work.

 

And on the other hand, your teammates with time will also understand the value of blocking time for certain tasks instead of spreading their efforts all over the place to no avail.

#3. Use fewer tools

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And a final, third tip for bringing down distraction and enabling single-tasking for yourself and your team is the choice of tools.

In today’s abundance of all sorts of collaboration, communication, accounting and various other software, knowledge workers slip into an endless switching between tools to get a single task done. It’s inefficient and it heavily contributes to multitasking’s unpleasant effects.

Cutting down on the unnecessary platforms can save your team a lot of time – and will certainly bring down the confusion which is the right tool for that specific task and the effort wasted on constant switching between tabs and documents.

Less chaos and better streamlining of processes are the way to go.

What’s your experience with single-tasking? Do you have cool tips how to foster it in your team? Sharing is caring!

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