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Doing one thing but doing it well

Now that I’ve decided to share more of my half-baked notes, it’s become much easier to write and publish new things. I feel less pressured because I can write about anything that’s in my head. I enjoy the note-sharing process because it’s more authentic and it connects me with readers.

All right, let’s get to my thoughts now…

I’ve been a heavy multitasker as long as I can remember. I’d always try to do many things at the same time—like reading part of something then jumping on the work in hand, making some progress there and then going back to the reading. I saw how much it hurt my net productivity. My overall focus and attention span decreased dramatically. There were times in the past when I could dedicate myself for a two- or three-hour chunk of time, to read or watch something useful, but those days are long gone. It’s hard now to stay focused and not get distracted by the busy world. Of course, this is bad not only for my productivity but for my happiness, too.

I also believe that my having such wide interests makes it even more difficult. I want to learn about so many things and the domain of subjects is broadening over time. However, because, as a human, I have limited brain capacity, I have to be very picky about what knowledge I accumulate. It’s quite similar to implementing a filtering algorithm for your brain, but it’s a hard task because there’s no universal formula we can all use. If I learn to manage this filtering successfully, though, I’m confident that it’ll have a compounding effect on lots of other things in life.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve deliberately been trying to be a single-tasker—or whatever the opposite of a multitasker is. I started to find ways to control my monkey mind so that I could stay present, which is when it becomes a lot easier to stop the urge to multitask. It’s kind of similar to a meditating exercise where you try to focus on your breathing and ignore the outside world. Here, being present means focusing only on one task and forgetting all the other items you have on your list.

Here are some ways I try to apply single-tasking in my daily life.

– I started reading only one book at a time and I decided that, once I’ve started a book, I have to finish it. This attitude is forcing me to be very critical about my book choices and to do my homework before starting a new book. (I used to read three or four books in parallel, which led to my abandoning most of them halfway through.)

In any conversation I have, I try to stay present. I don’t want my thoughts to roam all over when they should be focused on the context of the current chat. This is helping me to become a better and more genuine listener. Remembering details of conversations pays off a lot in life.

  • I stopped adding new reading or to-do items to my list if I feel that they’re going to distract me from my current tasks. Every morning, I try to write down three things I want to accomplish that day—then I stick to them.
  • I learned that short-form reading isn’t good for me; it often makes me question my choices, which damages my focus—and my mood. I’m trying to avoid it and concentrate on long-form content like books and the opinion pieces in the magazines I’m subscribed to.
  • In my professional career, where until now I’ve been more of a generalist, I chose to target some specific areas in which I want to excel and become expert. It took me a fair bit of trial and error to discover what I enjoy and what I don’t, but I’m confident now that I made the right call.
  • To improve my memory and attention span, I started journaling. What this gives me is clarity of thought. Journaling works as a tool for your brain that you can use to stay present and control your wandering thoughts. It helps you to ignore unnecessary distractions, too.

Of course, this is still work in progress and it’s not a complete list, by any means. I don’t expect to excel in everything I’ve mentioned here; in fact, there are days when making rational decisions and choices is extremely hard. Thankfully, I know now just to accept it and to wait for the fog to lift.