If you’re a creative person, chances are you’ve mastered the fine art of multitasking—or at least think you have. But in the face of growing evidence that trying to do multiple things at once is actually really bad for you, what’s a multi-faceted freelancer to do? Here are three ways to embrace the ancient art of one thing at a time.
Knowledge is power, and the more you learn about multitasking, the less you may find yourself wanting to do it. Here’s one way to counter the evils of multitasking: read about how much it can suck for creatives. Multitasking is increasingly being tied to “hurry sickness,” which can lead to serious stress-related health consequences.
Worse still, experts say that multitasking “increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.” That’s sobering news, especially for creatives who still labor under the delusion that doing seven things at once is a sign of an evolved and artistic mind.
It’s hard to focus if you don’t have anything to focus on, so take some time to identify your top priorities before figuring out where to direct your attention. For example, tweeting and texting might be your top priorities when organizing a book launch event, but not so much when you’re writing the book itself.
It sounds simple, but it’s deceptive—often, our behaviors reflect far different priorities than the ones we’ve set internally. Try writing down your top five priorities, then devoting a certain amount of time to working on each one (without any other distractions). You might be shocked at how much you accomplish.
Distractions are the enemy of effective monotasking, so cast them out of your workspace. You might want to install Internet blocking software on your computer or turn off the computer altogether, opting for pen and paper instead. Feel free to set your phone or instant messaging program to “do not disturb” while you focus.
Boundaries are your friend if you’re trying to get one thing done at a time. If you’re plagued with constant visitors or interruptions, get creative. Telegraph your monotasking status by putting on headphones, locking your door, making a threatening “do not disturb” sign, or just plain ignoring that ringing doorbell. And when in doubt, don’t forget—your electronics have an off button for a reason. It takes discipline, but focusing on just one thing at a time can help you get more done…and your mind might just be a bit clearer when you cross the finish line.