What Is Single-Tasking, and How Can You Get Better at It?

Macgill Davis

Learning how to focus on one thing at a time is a straightforward yet impactful productivity strategy. It helps you increase your focus, efficiency, and output without juggling many things at once. This, in turn, helps you keep up with your responsibilities without feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or mentally fatigued.

Single-tasking implements boundaries that help you achieve more in less time with less stress. It minimizes context switching and improves mental health. In this article, we'll discuss all you need to know about single-tasking, including what it is, its benefits, tips, and tools to help you develop a consistent habit. 

What Is Single-Tasking?

Single-tasking, the opposite of multitasking, means focusing on one task at a time and getting it done before moving on to the next. It's better for productivity but harder to achieve and sustain for extended periods of time. 

When you single-task, you focus on one task or activity with as few distractions and interruptions as possible. The goal is to complete the task in progress or reach a specific milestone before moving on to another activity.

Single-tasking improves your attention span and mental muscles. It gets you into a flow state, where you're immersed in your work. You're therefore able to perform better, produce your best work, and complete the task quicker.

Single-tasking limits excessive brain stimulation. It restricts outside distractions and channels your focus to the one thing you should be working on. This creates better mental health conditions by reducing undue excitement and stress levels.

Single-tasking also requires you to be present, which is more challenging when multitasking. Studies show that the human mind wanders when you don't intentionally focus it on one thing. Living in a distracted state decreases your feelings of happiness, your engagement, your productivity, and your overall well-being.

The Benefits of Single-Tasking

Single-tasking: A smiling man uses a laptop at a standing desk

Single-tasking brings many benefits but is difficult to maintain because the human brain defaults to multitasking. It, therefore, takes time to master single-tasking and begin to notice the benefits in your life. 

Some of these benefits include:

  • You retain more information.
  • You make fewer mistakes. 
  • You're more productive and efficient. 
  • You feel less stress, even when working harder.
  • You get into a flow state. 
  • You may experience increased positive feelings and better well-being.

The Downsides of the Default Habit: Multitasking

Multitasking (the opposite of single-tasking) is doing two things at once or switching rapidly between multiple tasks. Although it's thought to improve productivity, multitasking actually decreases your performance.

Multitasking, particularly on complex tasks, can cause you to make avoidable mistakes. While it may seem like you're getting things done, you may be taking longer because of constant context switching and increasing cognitive load.

Multitasking also increases blood pressure, stress levels, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. These things happen as a consequence of constantly splitting your attention. When you multitask, you drain your mental energy quickly, so you have less as the workday continues. 

5 Steps to Develop a Single-Tasking Habit

To be successful at single-tasking, you need to keep your mind present and organized. Follow our five-step guidelines to get better at focusing on one thing at a time.

1. Make a Prioritized To-Do List

For effective single-tasking, begin each week with planning and prioritizing your tasks for each day. Starting your day without a plan opens you to distractions, procrastination, and busy work. Avoid this by making a prioritized to-do list. 

Consider what tasks, if completed, will have the highest impact on your goals and progress. Pick only one to three big tasks or priorities for each day so that you're more likely to complete them. Then, focus on something new the next day.

Planning your workdays and weeks may require some extra time, but it pays enormous dividends in focus and productivity as you single-task through your day with a clear and organized mind.

2. Set Implementation Intentions

Setting implementation intentions means creating a specific plan that states when, where, and how you will execute a particular task. For example: 

  • I will take deep breaths and practice mindful meditation every weekday at 12:05 p.m. during my break and 5:05 p.m. right after work. 

This makes it more likely that you will do it because you don't have to think about when, where, or how to do it.

Set implementation intentions for your priorities and important tasks. Developing a specific plan for when, where, and how you tackle your big daily goals increases your chances of being successful.

3. Batch Your Tasks

Single-tasking: A woman writes in a notebook while sitting at her desk

After writing a to-do list and setting implementation intentions for the big tasks, break up the remaining time into big chunks that you can use to tackle all that's left over for the day.

Batch similar, smaller tasks into dedicated time slots to reduce context switching and maintain productivity as you go through your list. This helps to retain focus on one main thing at every time during the day. You will be surprised to see how focused you can be when tasks are broken properly into sizable chunks. 

Follow a regular schedule to get more gains from your time blocks. You can schedule "do not disturb" hours to limit outside distractions, like your coworkers dropping in or your cell phone ringing. Schedule to-do's on your calendar so that each task gets a specific time slot. This way, you'll always know what to focus on during the day.

4. Work in Short Bursts

Working on the same thing for long periods of time can be boring and monotonous. To single-task successfully, take regular breaks between work to rest and recharge.

Use the Pomodoro Technique for long, drawn-out tasks at work. With this technique, you focus on a single task for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Repeat four cycles before moving on to a different task. You may choose to adjust the timing based on your available time and workload. The idea is to focus on a task for as long as possible, then rest or switch to a completely new task.

5. Control Your Environment

To be successful at single-tasking, you must eliminate as much distraction as possible. Some possible ways to do this include:

  • Decluttering your workspace
  • Silencing your phone or turning it off
  • Turning off notifications from social media and other distracting apps
  • Closing tabs and apps like email and Slack on your desktop
  • Disabling web push notifications

You can schedule dedicated blocks of time to catch up on notifications and check email. Don’t shy away from practicing asynchronous communication, and don't expect instant responsiveness from yourself or others.

Track Your Time to Improve Your Single-Tasking Routine

If you're having a hard time completing work tasks and getting things done, single-tasking may be the strategy for you. Single-tasking improves focus and productivity, reduces the chances of mistakes, and improves mental health and well-being.

The first step to successful single-tasking is to schedule designated activities at specific time slots. This helps to empty and organize your mind so you can focus on the one thing at hand.

Tracking your work time provides a sturdy foundation for scheduling and executing each task. Knowing how you spend your time forces you to use it wisely and helps you better predict how much you need to complete future tasks.

Are you struggling with multitasking and having trouble adopting single-tasking? Do you want to improve your focus and productivity with less stress and hassle? 

Download the Rize time-tracking app today. It automatically logs your work hours and productivity, and it reminds you when you need a break. Through Rize’s weekly reports, you’ll learn how to improve your focus, create better habits, and plan your workdays in optimal and productive ways.