Single-Tasking is Hard. This Solution Makes it Achievable.

By Emily Roner | Updated: 03 Feb, 2021

Imagine a world where you can accomplish more in less time, make better decisions, and reduce stress.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

It can be your reality by embracing a simple habit that top-performing leaders have been harnessing for years: the incredible power of single-tasking.

Say goodbye to the frantic juggling act of multitasking and embrace a more focused, efficient, and rewarding way to work.

The Benefits of Single Tasking

Multitasking is one of the most well-researched productivity killers. Numerous studies show that it has adverse effects, including: 

Despite these consequences, 92% of knowledge workers multitask during meetings, and 41% do so during most of their work hours. Why? For most, the alternative - blocking out all distractions to focus on a single task at a time - doesn't seem practical due to concerns like: 

  • Responding late to a highly desirable prospect or applicant
  • Forgetting to follow through on a to-do you think of while working on something else
  • Not having the flexibility to work on every task individually

In many cases, these issues are valid and may be worth the decrease in your productivity if you have no other option. 

While multitasking lowers productivity, sticking with a single task at a time will increase your productivity.

By focusing on one task at a time, you can:

Improve focus and concentration: When you give your full attention to a single task, you can achieve a state of flow, which enhances your performance and creativity.

Reduce stress: Juggling multiple tasks can lead to increased stress levels. Single-tasking eliminates this unnecessary burden.

Enhance decision-making: Executives and business owners need to make informed decisions. Single-tasking allows you to gather and process information more effectively, resulting in better decision-making.

Mastering the Art of Single-Tasking: Practical Examples

Here are some effective strategies and examples to help you embrace single-tasking in your daily work:

Block out distractions: Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his ability to focus intensely on one task. He would often shut himself away from the world to concentrate on product design and development.

Designate specific times during the day for checking email and social media and turn off notifications during focused work periods.

Prioritize tasks: Warren Buffett, the successful investor, and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, recommends using the "Two-List Strategy."

Start by listing your top 25 tasks, then pick the five most important ones. Focus exclusively on those five tasks (1 at a time) and ignore the rest until they're achieved. This ensures that you're making progress on the things that matter most.

Time blocking: Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, breaks his day into 5-minute blocks to maintain focus on specific tasks.

Schedule dedicated blocks of time for each task in your calendar to prevent switching between tasks and allocate enough time for each one.

Break tasks into smaller, manageable chunks: JK Rowling, the bestselling author of the Harry Potter series, wrote her novels by breaking them down into smaller sections, such as chapters and scenes.

Apply this approach to your projects by dividing them into achievable steps, making it easier to focus on one task at a time.

Set boundaries: Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, emphasizes the importance of work-life balance and setting boundaries.

Communicate your single-tasking strategy with your team, encourage them to do the same, and avoid interrupting each other during focused work periods.

A Solution to Getting Multiple Tasks Done at the Same Time

There is one solution that will let you experience the benefits of single-tasking while getting multiple tasks done simultaneously: hire a virtual assistant

Many people don't realize that VAs can act as an extension of yourself, proactively tackling small tasks that come up throughout the day so that you can focus on your priorities. 

To give you a better idea of what this looks like, here are five commonly multitasked activities that a virtual assistant can tackle so you can focus on one task at a time. 

1) Logging Information in Your Systems

Whether in a CRM, ATS, invoice management system, or another software, logging information is both essential and tedious. To feel like they're saving time, many people multitask this activity in one of two ways: 

  1. They log information as it's relayed to them in a conversation. The issue with this option that when you're logging information as someone is talking, you can't entirely focus on what they're saying. This diminished focus prevents you from fully engaging and thinking of thoughtful responses. 
  2. They rush to log it sometime after the meeting while they're also juggling a bunch of other things. In this case, you were likely focused when you were getting the information but are more likely to miss key details when you rush to input it later. 

As with all forms of multitasking, neither option is ideal. 

There are two ways that a virtual assistant can help you focus solely on the task at hand: 

  1. You can take notes on a Word doc or similar tool and send your notes to your assistant to pull the needed information for your system. This setup is ideal if taking detailed, free-flowing notes helps you process what others say. 
  2. You can invite your assistant to listen to the live call or a recording, and they can use that to take notes for you and fill in the required fields. 

In both cases, you're able to be fully present when you're receiving information, and you don't have to worry about updating your systems later. 

2) Responding to Meeting Requests and Messages

When you're trying to coordinate a meeting with busy people, responding quickly to messages about people's availability can play a role in when you're able to get it on the calendar. Multitasking by leaving your email open can feel like the only option under these circumstances. 

The same distraction occurs when you leave your inbox open while waiting for an important email to come in. Every time you get a new message - urgent or not - it briefly pulls your attention away from your current activity, which significantly derails your productivity. 

As an alternative, offloading scheduling to a virtual assistant limits the need to check your email since they'll handle all of the back and forth of finding a time that works for everyone. 

In cases where you're waiting for an urgent message, let your assistant know, and they can monitor your inbox for you. When the email arrives, they can let you know via chat or a phone call, so you get notified without having to pause and glance at every new email that comes in throughout the day. 

Leaving your email notifications turned off for large chunks of the day drastically increases your ability to single-task. As you get used to focusing on individual activities for prolonged periods, you'll notice an improvement in your productivity and cognitive abilities. 

3) Reaching Out to New Leads or Applicants

Lots of evidence shows that responding quickly to highly desirable leads and applicants can increase your chances of a successful outcome. Given this, many people opt to multitask by responding to messages from these contacts as they come in. 

Like with coordinating meetings, this habit is very distracting. While responsiveness is important, so are the activities that email pulls you away from. 

Offloading lead and applicant management to your virtual assistant limits the need to constantly check your email and save you additional time by proactively gathering any missing information. 

For example, when scheduling sales calls, you might want some additional information that may be missing depending on if the lead came in via inbound vs. outbound. In this case, your VA can either find the missing information via researching or asking the prospect for it when they're offering time to chat. 

With this setup, while you're in the middle of a sales call or an interview, your VA is scheduling and preparing your next few meetings.

This keeps your calendar full and lets you focus on having productive conversations without worrying about losing the attention of people in your pipeline. With your heightened focus, success becomes more inevitable, and you begin to experience the benefits of a positive feedback loop. 

4) Following Up on Tasks

If you're juggling many responsibilities, it's common for pending tasks to rise to your attention at random times and distract you from what you're currently working on. When this happens, it's often tempting to do it immediately or check in with whoever is responsible. 

Neither of these options is productive or even an effective way to prevent tasks from slipping through the cracks.

To work more efficiently, have your assistant act as a task manager.

This way, while you're immersed in a project, they're following up with members of your team who owe you deliverables or information. They'll also send you reminders when you're behind so that you don't have to waste mental energy trying to stay on top of everything. 

This tip works best if everyone on your team uses the same task management tool. However, even if that's not the case, you can still leverage them to keep your system organized. In this case, you'll have to leave notes or let them know when you're missing items from others. 

5) Formatting and Organizing Documents

Formatting and organizing standard documents like proposals, invoices, and receipts for expense reports is a tedious task that often gets rushed through while you're thinking about other activities. 

If you've made it this far in the article, you already know how this workflow shifts when you have a virtual assistant. 

The bottom line: VAs make single-tasking practical. 

This is why having one has such a significant impact on productivity. It's not just the time you save by not having to do the tasks; it's the efficiency boost you get from working in a focused state instead of a distracted one. 

To learn more about what it's like to work with Prialto virtual assistants, read this guide