Take the 2-minute tour ×
Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have decided that I'm a terrible multi-tasker, at the end of the day I have a bunch of unfinished emails, terminals and text files.

Mono-tasking is not for me, if I have to wait 5 seconds for something I get distracted. So I'm resolving to work on only a main task plus an optional secondary task at once until completion, with the added restriction that the secondary task has to be either reading or listening. This way I can finish a book or listen to podcasts when I need to wait for something.

The problems I foresee are that I will get interrupted, both by internal thoughts and by external means. Internal I can catch pretty well by writing down things in my inbox, external I'm not so sure how to handle.

Any tips and tricks that would help my endeavor?

UPDATE: After doing this for a few days, I find that I'm less easily distracted. I think it's because focusing on "finish one task, do two tasks at most" helps me get rid of tasks 3, 4, 5 and 6 :-). I'll update again in a while to see how I'm doing.

share|improve this question
add comment

4 Answers

I recommend "Inform-Negotiate-Call" technique. You set up your period for break from current task, for example, 25-30mins. If you get external interruption between the task: Inform - them that you are doing something Negotiate - that after break you will call them back. Record this in you todo. Call - them back after break. This step is important. If you always call them back. They will trust you and after that you have stronger negotiation.

I use this technique with Pomodoro technique in daily life and it very effective. Everyone can wait 25mins if they are sure that they will get call from you.

share|improve this answer
I like how it's three easy to remember words, so it's easier to remember as something to do. I do this already by letting my Pomodoro timer change my IM message to "available in x minutes". –  w00t Jan 26 '13 at 6:41
add comment

Pomodoro technique would help you manage your interruptions. Don't let interruptions lead your day. Manage them and get the control back.

I do agree that if I have to wait 5 seconds for something then I cannot be productive on that task. However, at the end of the day, it is what you have finished that counts, not what you have started (and left undone).

I used to switch context all the time. After a while, I find myself starting to forget what I have done in a particular task. It's getting worse and worse. I was introduced to Pomodoro technique and tried it. It turns out that I can finish the what-I-planned-for-whole-day work in 1 and a half quality hours (the time that I'm fully focused).

These days when I need to wait for something for 5 seconds, I'll start to think of a way to reduce that 5 seconds to 4. Occasionally, I find myself much more creative than I expected myself to be. ;P

Pomodoro works well for me. I recommend it. Let us know if you have tried it and it works for you or not.

share|improve this answer
Yes, I use a Pomodoro timer but I would still get distracted. Bi-tasking seems to help so far... –  w00t Jan 26 '13 at 6:47
add comment

I've don't see multitasking or bitasking as very useful, because you'll often accomplish more focusing on one task intensely. A lot of productivity techniques involve splitting your tasks into things that can be given full individual focus, including allocating time for immersive entertainment. You should only do bitasking for tasks that don't benefit from full brainpower, like eating, driving, or reading casual things.

One thing that does work for me is listening to business radio stations. Often they have an interesting and enlightening interview. Interviews tend to have a lot of fluff that doesn't need full attention or things that you'd already know. You'll get a flood of things that you can safely ignore and every once in a while, an interesting snippet of an interview will catch your attention.

I find that this isn't so good with books, because books are designed to be read from start to finish. Books often make the assumption that you've read and remember some of the earlier introductory things. Learning things in depth is also mentally fatiguing. It may harm your focus on your main task, especially if your main task involves learning something new.

For side tasks, you should try to consume knowledge in 'bite-sized' chunks. Instead of reading books, find some good 10 minute blogs like Lifehacker. Or listen to 30-60 minute talks of any kind; these will often not expect you to retain heavy topics in memory.

share|improve this answer
Good tips, thanks. For me the biggest problem with singletasking is that I distract myself. I actually found that since telling myself 2 is ok, I get less distracted :) –  w00t Jan 26 '13 at 6:43
add comment

While some folks are quite happy in an uneven job (firefighting would be an extreme example), others need to work more steadily to keep their energy up. I suspect you are in the latter category, as am I.

While two tasks can be better than one, in the real world, most processes work as cycles - think more like a circle than back & forth. Perhaps that's why I've found switching between 3 (maybe 4) tasks is even better than 2. Of course, if you want to get much of anything done, one of those tasks needs to be substantial, while the others need to be simple.

Lately, I've learned how important it is to get up and move around every so often, so now I try to make one of those tasks cleaning up the random papers on my desk, around my office, etc. That kills several birds with one stone, and reduces stress at the end of the day, when you really don't want to leave with your desk in a state of chaos.

share|improve this answer
Well I've been doing this for a while now, one substantial task and one less substantial, and I found that my chances of getting distracted greatly increase when adding additional tasks. I think what makes this work for me is that the extra task is a reward for doing the substantial task... –  w00t Mar 3 '13 at 18:54
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.