Mastering the Art of Singletasking

Pomodoro Timer

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Multitasking is a common buzzword right now. And it is both decried as having a viciant and virulent effect on our capability to function with facility, and as being the prime panacea of production. Which is right?

Well, honestly, I don’t think either are right. I think multitasking has its place, and I think it has a great amount of value. But I don’t think it is always the most efficient way to do things, and do think there are many things which require something else: singletasking.

Now, I honestly haven’t really heard anyone talking about singletasking by that term… people generally use words like ‘focus’ and ‘dedication’ and whatnot. Singletasking involves those, but I prefer the term ‘singletask’ because it emphasizes the precisely unique and advantageous nature of itself: it is doing a single task, and nothing else.

And it is quite a bit harder to do, and far more productive, than most people in our multitasking generation realizes.

Being a person who routinely listens to music (sometimes multiple tracks simultaneously), while chatting with upwards of 3-4 people, while reading streams on the internet, while writing up blog posts and emails, I can testify to the possibility of effectively accomplishing much in a short amount of time via multitasking, and to the amount of effort it takes to actually do it instead of fragmenting and spewing inanity across a dozen tasks at once (not the kind of multitasking you are wanting, I’m sure).

And so to someone of my multitasking prowess, it might come as a natural axiom that the fewer things you do, the easier it is to do them. I mean, adding more makes it harder, so taking some away would make it easier, right?

Not quite.

The effort it takes to focus on one thing, and one thing only, for any period of time, is mentally exhausting if one is not used to it. And getting used to it takes a great deal of training.

But is it worth it?


Just as worth it as learning to multitask. They are two skills, both of which one must be comfortable in to be a master in dealing with tasks (hmm… a taskmaster?) — into diligence. There are other skills which go into it, but these two form a large part of the foundation. I’ll talk more later about the other things I think go into it.

So how do you master this art? Here are a few things I’ve learned which have helped me learn.

1. Pray for two minutes doing absolutely nothing but praising God. Thank Him, praise Him, glorify Him. Write it out, say it out loud, or pray it in your head, but just keep going until it’s done (a timer helps, though if you’re on a roll, by all means, keep going!). Focus. Be still. If something else comes into your head, acknowledge it, and then think of another thing to glorify God about. Don’t fight thoughts… it puts focus on them and that’s not praising God. Just praise. Let go, and praise. This is one of the best exercises I know of for learning singletasking, because not only is it tremendously effective, but it also can radically transform your prayer life and deepen your relationship with God. And which is more important? Right. Best multitasking ever. 😉

2. Use a Pomodoro timer. Pomodoro timers are an idea created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, and I’ve been using them to good effect recently. You can learn more about them on Wikipedia, but the principle is simple: set a timer for a specific length of time (25 minutes is traditional) and then focus on doing one thing during that whole 25 minutes. Don’t stop until the timer dings (again, if you’re on a roll, keep going if you want to). And then set it for 5 minutes (or something else that works good for you: it’s your rhythm) and do something else, relax, multitask, check your email, whatever. Then do the whole thing again. It really helps you get down to business and get a lot accomplished.

3. Meditate on Scripture. This isn’t really a timed one like the above two challenges, but it can be if you like working that way. Basically, start working on a piece of Scripture, and using the tactics described in the praying challenge above, keep working on it. Focus, muse, think, study, meditate. Look up other passages related to it, look at the context, read the whole book around it, write notes, pray over it, learn from it, apply it to your life. But mainly, get interested in it. The Bible is absolutely fascinating… and powerful. No other book is like it. And again… this one is really a sneaky way to multitask, because while you’re learning to singletask, you are also drawing closer to God and learning more of Him. Which is just awesome.

I am still learning a lot about this subject, and integrating it into my life. And learning to singletask is certainly one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in this journey. So I’d be more than grateful for input and things you’ve learned which have helped you to singletask in your own lives.

So use the comments section liberally, and check back for replies! I reply to every comment, and I love it when dialogues get started. 😉


16 Responses

  1. This subject certainly needs to be spoken of more often!

    I’ve also been learning that multi-tasking is not always the best way to go. I love it, and have boasted in own abilities in the past, and the Lord has let me fall and crack because of it. Praise His Name – really made me take a reality check.

    This is a timely article – I love the idea of praying for two straight minutes before trying to “focus”. That’s more than a nod toward “I can do all things through CHRIST who gives me strength” – it’s full force acknowledgement.

    I’ve learned certain things should almost always be singletasked: (are we sure this is a word?! ;^)

    ~ Talking to family members. I have an ability to carry on a conversation, looking a person in the eyes, and still type. I can write about half a pretty good blog (without pictures) in the time it takes to have a heart-to-heart with my sister. However, I’ve learned that this does bug my family. They really desire my undivided attention. So I’ve learned to stop texting under the table (usually by losing my phone before I set the table for dinner), to put down what I’m doing and really focus on what the person is saying. It does a lot for their personal dignity (I’ve found this especially important when it comes to interacting with my father and brother.)

    ~ Reading Scripture. My iPhone is no longer invited to Quiet Time.

    ~ Writing a quality novel. I’ve learned to make listening to lyricless (hey – you made up ‘singletasking’) classical or action soundtrack music while writing the exception. And one track only, thank you very much. 😉

    I’ve also begun to challenge myself to unplug more when outdoors. I love to garden, walk and read outside. When I put the earbuds in my purse, the iPhone in my pocket, the iPad back inside, I discover a whole forgotten world of sounds, smells and details that I hadn’t had time to notice before — because I was so busy *saving time* by listening to an audio book or updating on Pinterest. xD

    I have a few projects that can’t seem to get done – I shall certainly remember your advice concerning the timer. Maybe I’ll get that 15 minute apron done in 15 minutes this time! 😀

    Yes – singletasking is a forgotten art. (and you’d think it’d be so natural!)

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    • * laughs * I believe I coined the term singletasking in this context. It’s been used before to describe computers (old ones, haha), though.

      Yes, absolutely, that is a brilliant list of things to singletask on. It’s so hard to really, really enjoy the feel of earth beneath your feet and the smell of dew in the morning when you’re listening to a podcast. The silence is so much a part of nature sometimes.

      I’ve never really been able to listen to two things at once… at least voices. I can’t talk to someone in real life and chat simultaneously, at least not with impunity. Music I’m fine with, though, even with lyrics. But it does make a difference if you go without even that.

      Have fun, and let me know how it goes!

      God bless,

  2. Wonderful post Jay. I definitely could use some singletasking practice.

    Also, yes. Praying and reading scripture are fantastic ways to practice!

    *goes off to find a timer*

    • I think we all could. I don’t think it’s something we ever completely and fully master. One can become a master in it, but never a master of it. That’s my hunch anyway. 🙂

      Have fun! All our timers keep breaking. 😛

  3. This is just what I’ve been needing to read, actually. I spend far too much time trying to do too many things at once and not getting everything done. It’s a bit frustrating when I realize that after all of that work, very little is accomplished. Also, I’d never thought of singletasking as something to be desired. I think I’ve fallen prey to the “multi-task mindset” haha. It has become habit for me to do more than one thing at a time, all of the time. Thank you for posting this. Now I’m going to have to start learning to singletask (love this word, by the way). 🙂

    *slips away to find a timer* I think I have a watch somewhere that will work wonderfully…

    • Well now you know you aren’t alone. 🙂 I think we’re all victims of this mindset to one degree or another.

      But at least now we can do something about it! 😀

  4. This was so good Jay, and something I really needed to read right now. It’s incredible how timely many of your articles are for me. Those steps will be really helpful; I may actually get some stuff done next week! Thankyou for sharing! 😀

    • It’s God, not me. He’s the best at timing. 🙂 I was just going through my list, bumped into this one, and thought, “Yeah, I have something to say on that.” Haha.

      Go for it! Come back and let me know if it makes a difference. 🙂 I’d love to hear if my little articles actually made a difference.

  5. The 90th Day reblogged this on The 90th Day.

  6. Thank you for the post! I’m a big sister, so it’s comes quite naturally to me to do five things at once …but that means that the times I need to focus on something I can’t do it unless I’m alone in a room with no distractions (hahaha… ;). I’ll find a timer somehow (all of ours get broken too :)…

    • * chuckles * I’m oldest of seven, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. 🙂 It takes great strength of will to block them all out when you’re focusing, but it can be done. You shouldn’t do it all the time, of course, though.

      Timers tend to do that in big families I think. 😀

  7. […] Mastering the Art of Singletasking ( Rate this: Sharing is Caring:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponMoreDiggLinkedInRedditEmailLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this post. […]

  8. I’m very glad you’re learning this and seeing the importance of it… 🙂 Great ideas!

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