I tried to uni-task religiously for a day to see if it boosted my productivity

We find out what happens when a serial multi-tasker attempts to only uni-task all day

Photo: Unsplash

Uni-tasking, as you might have figured, is to focus on one thing at a time.

And as a serial multi-tasker who is used to juggling many things at once, the idea of sitting down for hours to complete a task is a little bit daunting. 

Could I really get more done by doing one thing at a time, when be multi-tasking seems to be the most efficient way to get things done fast?

I was sceptical.

Nevertheless, I decided to try uni-tasking for a full day, with two guidelines in mind.

(1) Avoid multitasking if it divides my attention

That means I could have music running in the background while doing work (because that never distracts me), but I shouldn’t be listening to a podcast or watching videos while working.

(2) Seek to maximise productivity

If I worked on solely one project at a time, I wouldn’t be doing anything else for several days.

So I can’t afford to uni-task to the extreme, but I can divide each task into subtasks and choose to uni-task each of those.

Photo: Unsplash

I was in for an interesting experience. Here’s how my day working from home as a freelancer went.

8.15am - I woke up and got breakfast

I normally eat breakfast with my phone in my hand. (Horrid habit, I know.) Phone-less this morning, I found myself finishing my food within 15 minutes. That was quick.

9.35am – I did the chores

It went fine. I normally uni-task this anyway.

9.55am – I read a book, then broke my flow

As I read, a text came in. It was a friend asking for a small favour.

I handled it straight away because it would only take like two minutes, then I realised I broke my uni-tasking streak.

That was quick.

10.03am – I got back into reading

I continued reading for a few more minutes before I remembered a small task I had to do soon.

It made more sense to do it right away, but in the name of uni-tasking, I left it till later.

10.30am – I started work

So far, so good. I got half an hour of uninterrupted reading done and I started work. 

I normally reply my texts even when working, and not doing that today made me feel antsy. However, I also felt a little liberated to be able to focus on only one task. 

10.52am – A work-related text came in

The task was kind of important, too. So it was time to make a choice: Should I work on the new task or stick to the old?

I decided on a halfway solution: to handle the most urgent part of the new task, then go back to my first task.

It ended up being a productive choice. I think this is one of those situations where uni-tasking blindly would have been a bad idea. 

11:33am – I took a food break

As I took my break, I noted that I was a lot more stressed than usual.

Though uni-tasking was allowing me to make solid progress in each task, I was also growing very stressed about not having made headway in other tasks. 

Then I realised I was used to using multitasking as a stress reliever, since it made me feel like I was on top of everything at once. That’s not necessarily a good thing either.

11.50am – Back to work

I finished handling two small tasks then buckled down to work on a research-heavy article.

12:31pm – I started craving distractions. Like, really craving them.

I kept thinking of lunch. I thought about catching up on the news. I wondered if I should go make a cup of coffee.

A moment later dismay sinks in as I realised I was craving distractions to deal with the stress. I tried to press on, anyway.

12.48pm - A small work-related task came in

And I caved. I put away my article and jumped on this new task. This one I got done with no distractions.

1.15pm - I had lunch

It’s easy to uni-task meals, thankfully. With nothing to distract me, I felt full very quickly.

This would have never happened if my mind was busy on a video or podcast.

2.06pm – I started working on another article

I was supposed to work on the research-heavy article, but as I got to my desk, inspiration hit for another article.

I decide to follow the inspiration and switch tasks. And it paid off - I got a lot more covered than I normally would have.