The toothbrush and the candles (a.k.a. Single-tasking, or the merits of anti-multi-tasking)

There is exceptional power in doing one thing at a time, and giving it all your focus.

It’s always been that way. Those who have the capacity to focus, to go narrow and deep, typically produce the best work.

The ability to do that, to focus on one task, perhaps for an extended period of time, to achieve something that matters, has been steadily eroded by the ubiquitous distractions of the modern world.

Distraction follows us everywhere. Occasionally people joke that the workplace, with its open plan and instant messaging, is the last place to go if you want to do real work.

Single-tasking, deciding to be an anti-multi-tasker, is not easy, when at any one time there are hundreds of options and expectations for your time.

But single-tasking is worth the struggle it takes to build the habit.

Like everything, habit starts with a 2-minute decision.

The idea for this post came to me last night, in a moment that I’m grateful to be able to recognise as every bit as ludicrous as it sounds. I was brushing my teeth, and there were two candles lit beside the bath. Instinctively, while brushing my teeth, I moved to blow out the candles. Single-tasking — brushing my teeth, then blowing out the candles — achieved a better, and less potentially embarrassing, outcome.

Next step: build that into my day to day in the real world, with things more important than a toothbrush or a candle.