Dive Deep: The Case for Single-tasking

One of the great things about the iPad — on which I’m currently writing — is that it forces you to do one thing at a time.

True, the iPad is capable of “multitasking”, but it’s really just an interface that allows you to switch between apps quickly. You can never have two apps onscreen at the same time. Some perceive this as a limitation, and many cite it as the reason they would never be able to use the iPad to get any “real work” done.

We often associate multitasking with productivity. After all, why wouldn’t you want to get a bunch of things done at the same time?

Multitasking does have some value, but we always forget about the power of single-tasking.

When we’re working on multiple tasks at the same time, or even thinking about multiple things at the same time, our focus is divided between each entity. Even I know enough math to understand that if you’re working on two tasks at once, each is only receiving half of your time and attention.

When we spread our time and attention over many different tasks at once, the quality of our work suffers.

Quality suffers because our brains are built for single-tasking. When we multitask, our brains are jumping from thing to thing very quickly. We feel like we’re working on several things at once, but our brains are actually moving from one thought process to another in rapid succession. I tend to make more careless mistakes when I force my brain to operate this way. When I’m thinking about several things at once, my mind feels scattered and overwhelmed, which is stressful and exhausting.

By spreading ourselves too thin over too many different things, we negate our ability to focus deeply on one specific thing.

If you jump off a diving board with spread arms and legs — jumping jack style — you won’t sink very deep. But, if you jump off with your arms and legs together — pencil style, I believe — you can easily touch the bottom of the pool.

It’s the same with multitasking and single-tasking. Spread yourself too thin, and you won’t be able to delve too deeply into any one project. But, if you focus all of your attention on a single problem, you can reach new depths of productivity and understanding.

Writing this article on my iPad forces me to think deeply about the topic and what I’m saying. I’m not writing and surfing the web. I’m not writing and listening to music. I’m not writing and playing guitar. If I were doing any of those things at the same time, my attention would be divided between them, and I’d only be able to scratch the surface of what I was writing about.

When you want to do your best work, single-task. It can mean the difference between a dive and a belly flop.

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