5 Tips For People Who Suck At Single Tasking

5 Tips For People Who Suck At Single Tasking
Carly Jacobs

I recently caught the last few minutes of an old movie on TV. It was really boring but that’s beside the point. As I was quickly wolfing down my salad with one hand and emailing one of my editors with the other hand, I noticed the scene being played out on the TV.

The whole family was sitting around a radio, just listening to it. No one was playing cards or sewing or knitting. They were just sitting around and listening. It reminded me of this meme I saw on Facebook that I can’t find now but it said ‘There are two different types of people’ and it showed one person with headphones in listening to a podcast while vacuuming and cleaning the house. The other person was lying on their stomach, with their eyes closed and a serene look on their face.

single tasking

I’m firmly in the first camp when it comes to podcasts. Before I saw this meme it never occurred to me that someone would just sit there and not do anything while listening to a podcast. The more I thought about it, the more envious I became of people who had the ability to sit quietly and listen to something without their hands twitching to do the washing up or have a quick scroll of Facebook. The ability to sit still eludes me, so it’s with great fascination and envy that I watch other people do so.

I’ve tried to fight my fast-paced, mile a minute, get shit done disposition but it’s not squashable so I’ve learned to live with it. I’m a natural born multi-tasker and it’s just easier to go with it.

If you too suck at single-tasking, here are a few tips that might just help you.

1. Set a timer 

Timers are a lifesaver for me. I do a lot of writing in my job. Depending on who I’m working for or what I’m working on, I could write up to 20 articles in a single week. I work from home so if I’m writing a particularly dry piece about weather appropriate house renovations in Australia, the temptation to turn on the TV and watch a quick episode of something on Netflix is something I need to fight every day. If I set a timer to focus on my task for 20 minutes, I can get 90 per cent of almost anything done in that time. I don’t even use a fancy timer, I just use my Apple Watch timer.

2. Use Long Day 

This is my new favourite app and I’ve been using it every day. It’s a simple app that divides your day into half-hour blocks. For example, this is what my morning looks like.

single tasking

I have meetings all this afternoon so I’ve scheduled my morning to fit in the writing of three blog posts for Smaggle. None of them will get totally done in an hour but I’ll get a good bulk of my ideas down and all three will be in draft form and ready for tweaking by midday. By giving each task it’s own hour, all you have to do is work on that task for that hour and you’ve succeeded. Even if you don’t finish it, you still get a gold star. It’s a win-win scenario.

3. Single task selectively 

It doesn’t always make sense to single task. For example, I always tidy up the house while I’m brushing my teeth because I have a  free hand and that’s a full two minutes I can use to pop some glasses in the dishwasher or lay out my gym clothes for the next day. I also listen to podcasts constantly. While I’m cooking, cleaning, doing the grocery shopping. They make unpleasant tasks so much more enjoyable to the point where I almost look forward to doing them. There’s no point in forcing myself to sit there and listen to a podcast while doing nothing else or go grocery shopping without listening to something at the same time. There’s no benefit there, so don’t do it.

4. Instead of doing the thing, write it down

A lot of ‘bad’, multi-tasking comes from remembering to do something in the middle of another task. For instance, while I’m writing this, I’ve just remembered I need to fill out an EFT form for one of my clients so they can pay me into my new bank account. Instead of leaving this article and doing that task while I think about it, I’ve written it down on a piece of paper of stuff to do later. There’s heaps of stuff on that list and I’ll get to it all later in the day. Otherwise my one hour I get to spend on this article will get cut short. Single-tasking is all about discipline so make sure you use your discipline when you need it!

single tasking

5. Go high level in the morning and low level at night

My brain works best on high-level tasks in the morning and then it craps right out in the afternoon. So I save smaller tasks like filling out forms, signing contracts, booking travel and organisation for the afternoon. I can bash out three articles in the morning with no worries but the afternoon? Forget about it.

If you want more tips for nailing single-tasking, here’s an episode of Straight & Curly where Kelly and I test out multi-tasking. Spoiler alert – I low key suck at it but that’s to be expected.



How are you at single-tasking? Master? Or do you suck like me?

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  1. Dee 9 months ago

    Most research shows it’s impossible for anyone to multi-task, even though we think we’re doing it, we’re actually just doing two things badly. I think this is true of big brain tasks, but doing things like housework, I believe multi-tasking is possible. Like you, I’m a big podcast listener when I’m doing the housework, washing, washing up… they don’t take a lot of brain power.

    But when it comes to work, I’m definitely a ‘block out some time to do this one thing’ type of person. I’m also good at sitting down and just reading – generally trying to slow my life down, I feel it’s possible to achieve a lot and still not burn out. But I guess for our busy lives that takes some re-training to leave the screens alone. 🙂

    When are you guys back on the podcast?

    • carlyjacobs 8 months ago

      Absolutely! I stopped listening to podcasts when I was writing because I was totally kidding myself that I was getting any work done. Hot tip – I listen to jazz, Bollywood and electriconica music when writing – because they have no lyrics to distract me!

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