Uni-tasking, as you might have figured, is to focus on one thing at a time.
And as a serial multi-tasker who is used to juggling many things at once, the idea of sitting down for hours to complete a task is a little bit daunting.
I was sceptical.
Nevertheless, I decided to try uni-tasking for a full day, with two guidelines in mind.
(1) Avoid multitasking if it divides my attention
That means I could have music running in the background while doing work (because that never distracts me), but I shouldn’t be listening to a podcast or watching videos while working.
(2) Seek to maximise productivity
If I worked on solely one project at a time, I wouldn’t be doing anything else for several days.
So I can’t afford to uni-task to the extreme, but I can divide each task into subtasks and choose to uni-task each of those.
I was in for an interesting experience. Here’s how my day working from home as a freelancer went.
8.15am – I woke up and got breakfast
I normally eat breakfast with my phone in my hand. (Horrid habit, I know.) Phone-less this morning, I found myself finishing my food within 15 minutes. That was quick.
9.35am – I did the chores
It went fine. I normally uni-task this anyway.
9.55am – I read a book, then broke my flow
As I read, a text came in. It was a friend asking for a small favour.
I handled it straight away because it would only take like two minutes, then I realised I broke my uni-tasking streak.
That was quick.
10.03am – I got back into reading
I continued reading for a few more minutes before I remembered a small task I had to do soon.
It made more sense to do it right away, but in the name of uni-tasking, I left it till later.
10.30am – I started work
So far, so good. I got half an hour of uninterrupted reading done and I started work.
I normally reply my texts even when working, and not doing that today made me feel antsy. However, I also felt a little liberated to be able to focus on only one task.
10.52am – A work-related text came in
The task was kind of important, too. So it was time to make a choice: Should I work on the new task or stick to the old?
I decided on a halfway solution: to handle the most urgent part of the new task, then go back to my first task.
It ended up being a productive choice. I think this is one of those situations where uni-tasking blindly would have been a bad idea.
11:33am – I took a food break
As I took my break, I noted that I was a lot more stressed than usual.
Though uni-tasking was allowing me to make solid progress in each task, I was also growing very stressed about not having made headway in other tasks.
Then I realised I was used to using multitasking as a stress reliever, since it made me feel like I was on top of everything at once. That’s not necessarily a good thing either.
11.50am – Back to work
I finished handling two small tasks then buckled down to work on a research-heavy article.
12:31pm – I started craving distractions. Like, really craving them.
I kept thinking of lunch. I thought about catching up on the news. I wondered if I should go make a cup of coffee.
A moment later dismay sinks in as I realised I was craving distractions to deal with the stress. I tried to press on, anyway.
12.48pm – A small work-related task came in
And I caved. I put away my article and jumped on this new task. This one I got done with no distractions.
1.15pm – I had lunch
It’s easy to uni-task meals, thankfully. With nothing to distract me, I felt full very quickly.
This would have never happened if my mind was busy on a video or podcast.
2.06pm – I started working on another article
I was supposed to work on the research-heavy article, but as I got to my desk, inspiration hit for another article.
I decide to follow the inspiration and switch tasks. And it paid off – I got a lot more covered than I normally would have.
3pm – I took a work phone call
It was a productive one as I uni-tasked it with no distractions.
3.45pm – I got back to work
Getting back to the grind, I work on a task for two hours straight. Seems like I’m getting the hang of it.
Admittedly, I hadn’t worked on the research-heavy article yet. That’s a giant I had yet to slay.
5.56pm – I started editing a video
I normally face a lot of inertia when it comes to editing as it’s not my strength, but as I forced myself to uni-task, I got sucked in.
The next hour or so flew by like it was 20 minutes.
This was so much more efficient than my usual process where I’d be okay with tiny distractions getting to me.
I started to see the benefits of uni-tasking. The more you do it, the easier you get into the zone, and the more you breeze through things.
7.04pm – I got dinner
I enjoyed dinner. Again, I was fuller a lot faster, and couldn’t finish as much as I normally would. Maybe uni-tasking meals is going to help me lose weight.
8.11pm – I chilled
I used my phone, chatted with friends, and took it easy for a while.
8.45pm – I started writing this article on uni-tasking
I got a lot of the first draft done, which was good.
I realised my default was to always take time to read other articles while writing, in the name of research.
But when uni-tasking this, I realised that doing research while writing was killing the momentum. It is much more productive to segregate those tasks.
10.09pm – I worked on the research-heavy article at last
This took some time to get around to, didn’t it?
In the end, I was pretty tired by this time, so I didn’t make as much progress as I should have.
I should have placed this task first and jumped over this big hurdle first so everything else could have gone more smoothly.
Credit: Unsplash / Brooke Cagle
Note: Not listed are the small pockets of time which I spent replying texts between tasks. There were too many to list down.
So that was the bulk of my day! It ended on a low note, and I did not manage to uni-task as religiously as I wanted to because of my short attention span.
Despite that, I still noticed a difference in productivity levels – I made big progress in a few tasks, when normally I would only a small dent in many different tasks.
I learned that uni-tasking, while it’s a key part of productivity, it’s not an all-transformative process that reforms your workflow or a one-size-fits-all solution.
It’s a small part of the big picture.
For example, overriding uni-tasking to follow my inspiration or handle what’s urgent first turned out to be more productive than focusing on one thing at a time.
However, some things do deserve full and uninterrupted attention (like that research-heavy article).
Once again, other factors come into play.
For example, late at night, I could uni-task it all I want, but since I was tired by then and it’s a tough article to write, my productivity would be pretty low.
So it boils down to how you choose to uni-task. It’s a really beneficial productivity concept, as long as you use it right!