You want to crank out some focused deep work on that article you’re writing, the programming code you’re working on or just reading that book that’s been lying dormant on your desk for two months. But maybe first check your email? Looks like you have plenty of time left, so a quick glance couldn’t hurt. An email from Susanne. Let’s quickly respond to that. And while you’re at it, you just remembered you didn’t get back to Fred yet. Two hours later, and you still didn’t get any real work done.
Sounds familiar? To me it did. I used to go through my days without a plan, switching between tasks every few minutes. Depending on what I wanted to work on, this could hurt my productivity a lot. On days where I was programming, this wasn’t an issue, since I naturally came into what researchers call a ‘flow’ state – a state of deep, energizing focus. But on days where I was working on lots of emails and sending out many messages, I started noticing that sometimes I was all over the place.
Effects of multitasking on productivity
Turns out hopping on and off from tasks damages your productivity a lot. After switching, it can take you up to 25 minutes to get back to focus. Multitasking can, according to research, reduce your productivity by as much as 40 percent. That’s an insane amount of time! If you could save 40 percent in productivity by not multitasking, you could save up to three hours per day. Goodbye to 40-hour work weeks – or hello to 60-hour work weeks in 40 hours.
We all think we’re great at multitasking, but the harsh truth is: we’re not. But not all hope is lost. What if we tried to do the exact opposite of multitasking? In order to work effectively and get the most out of your day, single-tasking might be the answer.
The 30 minute block approach
There is an approach that can greatly help you with single-tasing: the 30 minute block approach. It simply means scheduling your working day in blocks of 30 minutes. It’s an approach suggested by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. The reason this helps you work effectively and boost your productivity is very simple. Because of the strict scheduling, you know what to do at which time of the day. And it’s the only thing you need to think about at that moment in time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This method is not supposed to be a strict regime you have to stick with. This would miss the point. You can be flexible, and you can reschedule multiple times a day. Things are sure to come up during a regular working day, and sometimes things need your immediate attention. But the method does help for that quick email check. You can now simply schedule two to four email checks in your day – plenty of checks to keep you up to date. Two hours of not checking your email will not hurt most people (of course there can be exceptions, like people that rely solely on email for their work).
We can only do deep work for 4,5 hours per day
With this new weapon in hand, you can start to really work effectively and get the most out of your day. One more thing to note is that simply scheduling all hours to work on, for example, writing a research paper, will not work. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work describes research that showed we can work in a state of deep work, or a ‘flow’ state, for a maximum of 4,5 hours per day.
Plenty of time to get real work done, especially if you block 1,5 to 2 hours straight and work on that single, hard task. After that, scheduling a break or checking some email can take your mind off from the task at hand for a bit. You could block three 1,5 hour-blocks, or two 2-hour blocks in your day. Make sure to take enough time between them – a minimum of 30 minutes is advised.
With these blocks, you can now focus on one task at a time. Single-tasking instead of multitasking. I suggest you try it out for a week. We have created a template for you that’s ready to use. You can download it here: Daily Planning Template. It will automatically calculate the time you use for meetings or breaks for you as well.
Try it out for a week, and let me know what you thought of it in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on it.