Four ways you can increase your productivity by unitasking

Are you increasing your stress and decreasing productivity by trying to multitask? Discover four ways you can get more done (and be more mindful) by unitasking instead. 

The old adage killing two birds with one stone has taken on a whole new meaning in the modern working world, where we talk on speaker phone, check our emails, drive to work, and inhale a sandwich all at the same time.

Somehow, we manage to get it all done (partially), but did we actually pay attention to what was said on the phone or enjoy the taste of the sandwich? Definitely not.

Why multitasking doesn’t work

With the increasing distractions we all face during the day, it;s no surprise that multitasking has become common practice. We believe it helps us accomplish everything we have to get done, however, is a myth.

However, research has shown that multitasking negatively affects performance and decreases productivity by up to 40%.

So while you may think that doing multiple things at once is efficient, it’s actually counterproductive because you’re performing tasks with less attention and lower quality.

Why unitasking is the new multitasking

A far better way to accomplish your tasks is to ‘unitask’ – do one thing at a time with full effort and attention.

Unitasking involves a conscious commitment to the task at hand, and being fully immersed and engaged in the experience. Being mindful about what we’re doing helps to cultivates a present-moment awareness in which you can carefully focus on what you are currently doing, rather than worrying about other obligations or tasks.

As a result, unitasking produces a higher quality performance. It also increases productivity by enabling you to execute a task effectively and efficiently before moving on to the next one.

Why women benefit more from unitasking

The focus that mindfulness brings can make a positive difference in both men’s and women’s lives. But judging by the amount of multitasking women do, and the amount of anxiety we feel, women stand to benefit even more.

Indeed, a study by Michigan State University found that women multitask 10 hours more per week than men, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety in their lifetime.

There are also differences in the way different women handle stress. Single women, for example, experience less stress and feel as if they can better manage their stress than their married counterparts.

However, by recognising sources of stress and becoming mindfully aware of when you start to feel stressed, you can employ effective strategies to help you cope.

And while it may not be possible to avoid all the stressors of modern life, the first step to finding clarity among the chaos is to stop trying to multitask and start practicing how to unitask.

Four ways you can start unitasking at work

To unitask, you just have to resist the multiple distractions of your environment and your own addictive habits, get very clear about what you want to do, and commit to doing it. Here are four ways you can start.

1) Plan your day – 20 minutes at night can save you time at work

How many times have you gone to bed exhausted after a long day, only to find your mind running through every possible scenario of the upcoming day as soon as your head hits the pillow?

To calm your mind, get a restful sleep, and avoid feeling overwhelmed the next day, spend about 20 minutes BEFORE you go to sleep writing down a plan for the following day. Go through what meetings you have, how much free time you expect to have, and what you can realistically achieve in the designated time slots. Prioritise your tasks and assess if you need to call on any colleagues for help.

This will enable you to pre-empt issues that could arise, and will leave you feeling prepared for the day – improving your sleep.

2) Divide your work day into unitasking episodes and define each one

With the daily plan you make for yourself at night, dedicate a specific time for you to do each task. For example, assign 4:00-5:00 pm for preparing that presentation you haven’t had time to work on, and ONLY focus on completing that task with all of your attention and effort.

This way you will be able to complete the task efficiently, and be satisfied with the end result and ready to tackle your next unitasking episode. (You can also achieve this by working in productive focus blocks.)

3) Have a permanent unitasking day

With all the responsibilities you have at work and home it can be challenging, if not impossible, to plan out your day to a T.

Unexpected problems may pop-up throughout the week, such as a child falling ill, but carving out one permanent ‘Unitasking Day’ can help you to feel more in control.

Choose one day where you will make it your goal to only focus on one task at a time and be genuinely attentive to what you are doing. The more you practice unitasking, the more it will become a natural habit that you adopt without thinking.

4) Ask yourself “What do I really want (or need) to be doing right now?”

It’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed with the burden of your responsibilities, but take the time to assess what you actually need to get done.

This will break the mental chatter of the many different tasks vying for your attention, and help you find clarity and focus on the most important task you need to be doing at that moment.

Sometimes there’s a contradiction between what we want to do and what we need to be doing. Taking a moment to distinguish between the two can help us to mindfully complete what we need to do so that we can then go onto enjoy what we want to do.

Dana Zelicha is a leading academic on the topic of Mindful Leadership. She’s a former corporate high-flyer whose first-hand experience with the mounting stress and pressure of the modern workforce inspired her to launch OWBA – The Well Being Agency

Her goal is simple: to help the organisational world become more mindful. To arrange an informal conversation, email OWBA.