Craft For The Soul Creativity Hello Nice Life Reminders

In Praise Of Single Tasking

January 20, 2015

A version of this post was first published here 
(I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot recently, and then my friend Defah got me thinking even more!)

solo pompom


I was listening to a podcast recently.  I am a big fan of podcasts and the one I listened to was recommended to me by Author/Illustrator/Fair Trade Ambassador Chris Haughton*.   I don’t take just anyone’s recommendation when it comes to podcasts, but I met Chris when he was in Melbourne years ago and he’s just a great guy and a good thinker.  I’m into recommendations by great guys, so off I went to have a listen (and a think.)

The podcast in question is an interview with 4 Hour Work Week author Timothy Ferriss. (You can buy tickets to see Tim speak for the cost of a small Pacific island.)  Tim’s an interesting speaker, and I was kicking myself that I didn’t have a notepad as I took my daily walk, because he said a lot of stuff that got me thinking.

Let me set the scene…  So, there I was with my new friend Mr Ferriss in my ears at six o clock in the morning.  I knew nothing about him and had not even read his book, The 4 Hour Work Week. Hmm. I am a bit turned off by the title, truth be told.  It makes me feel lazy just hearing it.  I have a wacky work ethic which makes me feel sloth-like if I don’t keep busy 18 hours of the day.  Four hours a WEEK?  That seemed a bit demented to me.  I did, however, want to have a listen and see what he was all about.  Heck, people seem to like Tim.  I wanted to give Tim a go too.  And so I did.

Do you know what?  I am glad that I did give Tim a chance.  I learned a lot.  I will not tell you all the things Tim said, because I don’t want to steal his thunder and you can listen for free yourself.  But ONE of the things Tim said made me stop in my tracks.  I thought you would want to know about it. Maybe you already know about it?  Tim talked about learning to SINGLE TASK.  Holy moses.  I think this idea is BIG.

You don’t have to dig very deep to realise that Tim is not the only one to extol the virtues of single-tasking.  Gretchen Rubin, author of one of my favourite books The Happiness Project, talks about focus here, and Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some further anti-multi-tasking (phew!) advice here.

When you think about it, you realise we are strongly encouraged to multi-task. A lot of us even like to think we are really good at it, that’s it’s a total asset.  You can see us, right?  We’re stirring the risotto, while we’re glancing at the newspaper, yelling homework advice, sipping wine, listening to Classic Hits FM, wondering about tomorrow’s to-do list, polishing the peanut butter off the iPad screen and trying to pick up spilled Cheezels with our toes.  And that’s probably a quiet early evening.  We didn’t even factor in trying to look nice, smell nice, plan nice, act nice and be nice, amidst all the practicalities.

Tim has been on about single tasking for years.  I think I missed it because I was way too busy competing in the Multi-Tasking Olympics.  Probably I was shaving my legs while walking the dog whilst thinking about finding the school raffle tickets whilst wondering if waterproof mascara is making my eyelashes fall out whilst deciding whether to buy that book I saw recommended on that blog last week whilst hopefully trying to iron my dress with the hairdryer whilst grating carrots.

Ow.  My brain hurts just typing that. Imagine how it feels actually DOING that. It’s not good.

So THIS weekend, why don’t you give single tasking a trial run.  I’m going to do it too.  Let’s just do one thing at a time, devoting our attention to the task at hand.  Let’s focus on soaking up the thing we are doing and try to avoid being distracted.  Let’s give each thing a good run for its money.  Let’s stop stacking stuff up like task-Jenga and just move a bit more slowly and purposefully… like, um… chess!

Let’s stop training so hard for the Multi-Tasking Olympics, because it might make our brains and bodies feel lots better.  And let’s stop counting the balls that other people are juggling, and just deal with our own balls (tee-hee) one at a time.  And let’s take breaks between each task.  They will be called Ball Breaks.

Let’s see what kind of gains we get from the one-by-one approach.  Let’s do that!  Are you in? Do you want to single-task?

x Pip


  • Reply Sara January 31, 2015 at 4:44 AM

    Ball Breaks! *giggles*
    I’m so going to give this a try!

  • Reply kate @ One Small Life January 22, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    Balls! Titter.

    Hoorah! I’ve never understood why multi-tasking was such an asset – maybe only because I am not very good at it. I’m an Ox, so slowly, slowly. Often this is a disadvantage, but every now and then it’s a win.

    I really agree with your suggestion of focussing on one task at a time – even if it’s just one task a day. Washing the dishes or eating. Do only that. You really notice how busy your mind is, jumping from one tree of thought to another like a monkey – and once you notice it you can start to slow it down. An that feels goooood.

  • Reply Catherine January 21, 2015 at 5:38 PM

    Yes! Single tasking is my bag right now. mainly at work, but I must put it into practice at home as well. I used to jump all around the computer doing many things, but now set aside an hour or two to do one thing and once that hour is over, shops closed, no more till tomorrow! It does annoy me when people then demand me do change my new single tasking to do something for them right now – I mean I’ll do it, but I try to explain to them to them the chemical process your brain goes through to do things such as multi tasking. Its only a split second thing to re-adjust your brain but eventually you exhaust yourself al without realising it! And the fact that my colleagues don’t single task, it makes other people not be single taskers and the ball gets bigger and bigger! Imagine if we all took things one at a time? could there possibly be world peace? ok maybe not, but there would be a lot more people with lower blood pressure for sure!

  • Reply Chrissy January 21, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    I think single-tasking is wonderful for creating mindfulness… being present in your task and environment. But it is something I REALLY struggle with, as I am like you, and must go go go go go until I drop each day. It drives my husband mental.

  • Reply Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages January 21, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    I tend to multi-task the simple things but if it is important I will try and single task, though it is hard.

  • Reply Fi January 20, 2015 at 11:03 PM

    Love this post – I am a gold medal-winning champion in the Multi-Tasking Olympics! I think it creates a false feeling of being in control and getting things done, when in reality it usually achieves the opposite. I’m inspired by your thinking, Pip. Definitely going to check out that podcast!

  • Reply Kate January 20, 2015 at 9:18 PM

    I’m in. Thinking it’s gonna be harder than I expect, but oh so rewarding.

  • Reply Trudie January 20, 2015 at 9:08 PM

    My mind is alway busy and with three kids 5 years old and under I quite honestly don’t know how I’d get through a day without the multi-tasking I have to do and all with a my eldest having high functioning autism. But recently I’ve started on a childhood adult goal of colouring in a colouring book all for me. I’ve wanted to do it for such a long time and of course after years and years of saying it’s now a thing, isn’t it? Anyways I’ve been taking time with my eldest side by side with us each working on our colouring books. It has been so calming and I have found it has made me single focused during these times during the day on these school holidays when we’ve been nabbing time. It’s been so good for my son too, because he is always on the go, very smart and hyper aware. It’s been a long time since my mind has had that stillness due to various personal reasons, so it’s a thrill to me to be revisiting these moments of which I want to build on.

  • Reply RebeccaHJ January 20, 2015 at 8:51 PM

    I’m with you on this revelation Pip – I am an avid reader of Gretchen and Leo and have made it one of my ‘resolutions’ to practice single-focus. So far I’m halfway through the knitted ’emotional’ blanket I started *years* ago and am loving the ‘flow’ and joy of just immersing into one single thing for a period of time. Next on my list: podcasts?!

  • Reply Nissa January 20, 2015 at 8:49 PM

    Single tasking – yes! Revolutionary, a brilliant reminder etc…. But, I have to say, the thing that really resonated with me about this post –


    This is a constant fear of mine!

  • Reply Raphaele January 20, 2015 at 8:48 PM

    Thanks for this! I have been trying to not multi task for a year now and feeling very guilty about it 🙂 I thought it works for me and it does not make me less productive. It seems to me that nowadays we are expected to multi task but in my opinion it puts to much pressure on our brains and makes it more difficult to switch off when needed. Plus we lose track of being just there just for the people we’re with at that moment.

  • Reply Susan Nethercote January 20, 2015 at 8:16 PM

    I just love this post Pip. I am (perhaps fortunately) a pretty crap multi-tasker. And I always find myself apologising because it seems to be almost expected these days that we should perform multiple tasks at once. I stopped doing this in my business about a year ago and I find, as a result, that I am far less stressed and make far fewer mistakes- in the micro as well as the macro sense. AWESOME post! I;ve written about my strong feelings about ‘slow business’ here:

  • Reply Dominique January 20, 2015 at 7:09 PM

    I can’t do it, I can’t, can’t, can’t. It’s impossible.

    Alright, I’ll try.

    I’ve been habit stacking recently. I’m too twitchy and bored to do just one thing so I do two boring things together and it’s been working brilliantly. Favourite one so far, reading eBooks whilst on the treadmill.

  • Reply Rosie January 20, 2015 at 6:20 PM

    I don’t like multi-tasking, especially when I’m at work because it just leads to mistakes or forgetting to go back to something. I like single-tasking but I don’t do it enough because I’m not the best at time management, but I’m working on that.

  • Reply Sharon McKenzie January 20, 2015 at 5:17 PM

    i think I became a multi tasking fanatic at uni but it became much worse when I became a Mum. All that trying-to-fit-in-everything-new-plus-time-for-myself-mummy-perfection rubbish with three children ugh! Has helped make my attention span shorter except when I’m drawing or painting then I just switch to one task and relax in the moment or reading (but I do find note taking creeps into that). I love single tasking and not putting my self in what I call “scatter brain mode” by trying to do 15 things at once. New Years resolution more single task moments!

  • Reply Annette January 20, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    This is why I love about painting, and writing a blog post. They are definitely single focus tasks, which I reckon is at least 38% of their appeal.
    I think I’ll listen to that podcast too – thanks Pip!

  • Reply Helen January 20, 2015 at 2:49 PM

    I’m totally living in Single Tasking World at the moment… so so so bored with busy (I wrote a post ‘Slow is my new busy’ about this a few weeks ago)……..mindfulness is the way forward… brings us back to all that is important….LOVE your post…..

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