Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Cutting the distraction: from a multi-tasker to a single tasker

While on a conference call with the executive committee of a non-profit board on which he sits, consultant Peter Bregman decided to send an e-mail to a client. With his focus half on the call and half on the e-mail, it took three tries to get it right. And when he finally refocused on the call, he realized he had missed a question the board chairman had directed at him. Such are the results of trying to do two things at once. A chastened Mr. Bregman decided to embark on a one-week experiment in which he would avoid multitasking, focusing solely on the task at hand. On Harvard Business School blogs, he shared his results, and some tips on joining him in single tasking:


Delight: He found it delightful to focus more intently on whatever he was doing, most notably when he was with his children, cell phone off and more deeply engaged. "Don't laugh, but I actually - for the first time in a while - noticed the beauty of leaves blowing in the wind," he writes.

Story continues below advertisement

Enhanced productivity: He made significant progress on some challenging projects that require thought and persistence - the kind of tasks he often distracts himself from when the work becomes hard. In this case, he stayed with it, and experienced a number of breakthroughs.

Reduced stress: His stress dropped markedly. "It was a relief to do only one thing at a time. I felt liberated from the strain of keeping so many balls in the air at each moment. It felt reassuring to finish one thing before going to the next," he says.

More protective of time: He lost all patience for things that were not a good use of his time, and resisted them, like hour-long meetings and meandering, pointless conversations. He became focused on getting things done.

More patience for useful things: On the other hand, he had more patience for things that were useful and enjoyable. He could listen to his wife without feeling in a rush to do something else, or stay with moments when he was brainstorming ideas, instead of flitting to something else.

No downside: He lost nothing by not multitasking. No project was unfinished and nobody was frustrated that he didn't return a call or an e-mail as soon as he received it.


Turn off interruptions: To avoid the temptation to multitask, turn off interruptions. Disconnect your computer from your wireless connection when working on other things, and leave your phone in the trunk of your car at times.

Story continues below advertisement

Use loss of patience to advantage: Create seemingly unrealistically short deadlines. Cut meetings in half. Give yourself a third of the time you seem to need for a task. You may surprise yourself with how quickly things will move in a single-focus world, and how stress-free it will seem, even with tough deadlines.


Five elements of the modern business plan

Business plans for new enterprises are often storehouses of bafflegab. Business adviser Seth Godin wishes they were more useful, and, in that, vein, he suggests they have five sections:

Truth: This section describes the world as it truly is - the market you are entering, the needs that already exist, the competitors, technology standards, and the way others have succeeded and failed in the past. The more specific, the better. Spreadsheets and other analysis are welcome. "This section isn't partisan, it takes no positions, it just states how things are," he stresses on Seth's Blog.

Assertions: Now you can describe how you are going to change things. You will do X, and Y will happen. The only reason to launch a business plan is to change things, and here you describe that change.

Alternatives: Since many of your assertions inevitably won't pan out, indicate what you'll do when that happens. How flexible is your team and your plan?

Story continues below advertisement

People: This indicates who will get it done - not résumés but a sense of their attitudes, abilities, and track record.

Money: How much financial support will you need, how will you spend it, what do you expect revenues to be, and what exit strategy for eventually getting investors' money back do you foresee?

It may not be the format a venture capitalist would want, but Mr. Godin says it will help you think through the hard issues more clearly.

Power Points

Hit a better presenter's note through karaoke

Want to improve your sales skills? Sales wizard Jeffrey Gitomer says he learned his presentation skills singing karaoke in bars. Sales Caffeine newsletter

If you apologize, you only reinforce

When you take 24 hours to respond to an e-mail, stop apologizing to those who think that's an unreasonable amount of time. You are only teaching colleagues to expect things instantly from you, author Christine Louise Hohlbaum chides. Psychology Today's Power Of Slow blog

Change of pace in marketing missives

HTML e-mail draws more responses in marketing messages than plain text and has become today's standard. Consultant Mark Brownlow therefore says you should try an occasional change of pace, sending plain text marketing messages because they will be different, standing out in a world of HTML missives. Since personal and important business e-mail tends to be plain text, you also gain from that association.

Want a promotion? Have a successor ready

You are more likely to get a promotion if you train a skilled lieutenant who can step into your shoes easily, according to Donald Asher - author of Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn't, And Why. That reduces the risks for your bosses when you climb the ladder.

Best use of social media

Social media are better listening and feedback mechanisms than outbound messaging tools for business because companies have yet to figure out how to use them properly for that, says Web marketing expert Jim Sterne. At the same time, he notes, they can be an effective branding tool. Larry Chase's Web Digest For Marketers

Customizing Outlook's calendar

Outlook's calendar offers you a choice of looking at just one day, the work week, or a full week when you open the calendar. But productivity expert Jason Womack points out that you can customize your view and choose the days you want to see at a glance by pressing the CTRL key and clicking on a set of dates on the small monthly calendar in the margin beside the main appointment calendar. For example, click CTRL and yesterday's date, followed by today's date, and tomorrow's date, and the calendar will now adopt that very handy pattern every day. Jason Womack's blog

Negotiations: Dealing with a huge male ego

As a female CEO, Janine Popick, who runs e-mail marketing house VerticalResponse, sometimes finds herself selling or negotiating a deal with men who have huge egos. On, she offers this advice to women who face similar situations:

Keep the conversations strictly business: If the interference of the ego seems unbearable, holding things tightly to an agenda helps to reduce awkward moments.

Delegate: The same way you would bring in a specialist or a consultant for particular niche segments of your business, bring in a non-egocentric male from your team to serve as a buffer. Since you get along with him and he respects your expertise, that might set an example for the egomaniac you are negotiating with.

Team up: If the business dealings require a lot of out-of-office contact, invite your partners - in business or in life - along to help ease an awkward situation where you may feel disconnected and threatened.

Divide and conquer: Take advantage to include someone you're training in these negotiations so they learn how to deal with less-than-desirable individuals.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to