Today, we’re going to play a game.
Draw two circles on the floor, about 3 feet apart. Make each circle just large enough for your feet.
Stand in one circle. Then hop to the other. Make sure both feet land within the circle without touching the edges.
Now jump back. Same rules apply. This is still easy, right? You’re not even breaking a sweat yet.
Every two seconds, continue jumping back and forth between the circles. What do you notice? You start to become less accurate. You get tired. You have to try harder to achieve the same result.
Now keep going for 8 hours.
Try to read a book while you’re doing it.
This is exactly what happens when we multitask: our brain switches from one circle to the other, becoming less and less efficient. This is called “task switching”–a pretty obvious name–and it’s really inefficient. Your brain simply can’t hold two projects at the same time; instead, it tries to switch back and forth between the two, like jumping from dot to dot.
As your brain fatigues, your cognitive abilities decline. You start missing the mark, and then auto-correcting.
The “jumping dots” analogy is a simple one. But what happens in your brain is even worse: as you increase cognitive load over the course of the day, the dots get further and further apart. You have to work harder and harder to get from one thought to another, and you become less and less effective.
The best way to really move the needle in your business is to single-task. How do you do it?
- Determine when you’re naturally most focused. For me, this is 4am, because no one else is awake. Distractions are minimized.
- Turn off all notifications on your desktop. Move your cell phone at least 10 feet away (research shows that a cellphone on your desk consumes mental energy even when it’s turned off.) Isolate yourself.
- Do a quick “flow state” focusing exercise.
- Pick up where you left off: finish a sentence you started yesterday, or use another “head start” to get some action going.
- Make a “later” list where you can quickly cut and paste ideas as they spring to mind. Instead of leaping into the next circle with both feet, write down your idea and return to it the next day. Fear of forgetting is a huge distractor.
Linking several tasks together, one at a time, will get several tasks done. Trying to juggle them all at once won’t get anything done. Whenever I hear an entrepreneur brag about “multitasking”, I know they’re failing to ship.