Doing too many things at once

The desire to do too many things at once is not new. It takes on an extra form at new year - the desire to also add a total life makeover, sorting out your work backlog, fixing relationship issues, your health, and your home repairs all at once.

The urge should be resisted. The one ingredient for a happier and more meaningful new year is the opposite: to improve your ability to do only one thing at a time.

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Want to improve focus and productivity? Do one thing at a time

theguardian.com

Doing various things at once is usually a way to quieten anxiety. When you're drowning in to-dos, it's calming to feel that you're getting to lots of them at the same time. It's also reassuring to think that you're handling all the issues, not just one.

But the feeling is misleading. Research shows that you waste time and energy "task-switching". Worse, each activity becomes a way of avoiding the next. It means that you make less progress in many areas, and you make less progress overall.

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The biggest part of learning to do one thing at a time is trying to control that discomfort that comes from knowing what you're not getting done.

Success comes from building one thing at a time. There are limits. You can't put your job on hold while writing, or stop parenting while you work on your fitness. But you can strive to move your life in the direction of having only a handful of projects at any one time.

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  • Use a personal kanban: Divide a whiteboard into three columns - ready to do, doing, and done. Write your tasks on sticky notes, and stick them under one of the three columns. Allow one or two tasks in the "doing" column.
  • Batch your tasks: You'll get through more in one unbroken hour spent on one task than breaking up the task in smaller chunks throughout the day.
  • Cultivate deliberate imbalance: Instead of a life makeover, pick one area to focus on each month or quarter, and postpone the rest.

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