Single-tasking has become a rarity in the modern workplace. You can guess a fair bit about how focused on work someone is by looking at the number of tabs open on their work browser.

I have at least five tabs open at any time on my browser, and this behavior has been normalized in today's work culture.

Despite little to no evidence backing it, we are all convinced that working on multiple things simultaneously makes us productive or, at the very least, makes us look productive.

This notion could not be further from the truth. Focussing on multiple things makes us less productive and contributes to more problems than benefits.

Multi-tasking from a work perspective is not chewing gum while walking. But instead, it is akin to driving in traffic while making an exquisite Soufflé, where you will mess up one or both tasks.

Multi-tasking is an oxymoron and unproductive

In the modern work context, multi-tasking is an oxymoron because you really can't do two things at once, and what you are instead doing is switching quickly between two tasks.

Every time you switch from one task to another, you need to give your mind the time and effort to refocus. When you multi-task, this happens so often that your mind can't be at its optimal state.

How to start single-tasking

The way to break the cycle of multi-tasking is to proactively adopt the practice of single-tasking, which is all about focusing on one thing at a time and working on it till completion or the closest place to completion.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do that:

Step 1: Get rid of distractions

When you start working on something important, you must get rid of all things that might hamper your focus.

For example, when I'm working on a task that demands my focus, I will put my phone on silent/airplane mode, close all other applications on my Macbook and only then start working.

I will also go a step further where I close the door of my room and put on my noise cancellation headphones so that external stimuli don't take my focus away.

Step 2: Hit a small focus goal

While it would be great to get hours of focus time early in your single-tasking journey, that is not realistic for most people.

Most of us are not programmed to pick up something and keep doing it for hours from the start. So it is essential to set small, realistic goals and start hitting them consistently.

For example, I started with the Pomodoro timer and set 25 minutes as my goal. Once I started consistently hitting 4-5 sessions every day, I was able to increase my focus window to 1 hour instead of 25 minutes.

The idea is not to let unrealistic goals get in the way to progress.

You can also do this with tasks where you pick a small & simple task instead of a complex one and finish it. If the tasks you have are complex and consume a lot of time, consider breaking them down into smaller tasks that you can quickly complete.

Step 3: Track your progress

While hitting your single-tasking or focus goals is essential, recording and tracking them is equally important.

You can use a simple spreadsheet to see the number of focus minutes you were able to accommodate in a day and try to improve it daily.

You can also use this space to write down your possible distractions triggers so that you can remove them from your work environment the next time you want to focus.

Step 4: Create the single-tasking culture

Once you have established the practice of single-tasking, it is essential that you set that as the default mode of operation.

It would help if you created barriers to multi-tasking and ensured that any tasks you take are compatible with your single-tasking schedule.

Do not bite more than you can chew; prioritize output quality over quantity.

Step 5: Take breaks strategically

While it is important to get focus time, you must also budget some time for just unwinding and letting your mind wander.

Your mind needs the breaks to strategize and get creative, so do not be too strict with it.

For example, after every 25-minute session on Pomodoro, give yourself a 5-minute break because this will help avoid burnout and mind fog.

Systems used for single-tasking

There are a lot of methodologies and systems that can help you become better at single-tasking. The top three would undoubtedly be:

We at Routine have written extensive blog posts on some of these methods, so click on the method to learn more about them.

But long story short, these methods are built to increase the productivity of a knowledge worker by bringing you more clarity and direction.


Single-tasking can help improve your productivity, lower your stress levels, improve the quality of your output and make you a more creative contributor.

So there is no need for you to switch between tasks constantly. If you have thoughts on single-tasking and if we have missed any ideas about the topic, do share them with us on Twitter @RoutineHQ.

Thanks for reading.