Stop Multi-Tasking and Get More Done

That’s my take-away

from reading Distracted, by Maggie Jackson. 

Researchers have  found that we can’t focus on two things at the same time. They also found that competing thoughts in our head trip us up so that we never get into “the zone.” We skim the surface of a project and lack the deep concentration required to work quickly or produce excellence.

We think that we can do two things at the same time like a juggler who can keep five red balls in the air. What we have is divided attention. It slows us down, produces mistakes, and exhausts our minds.

“But I have so much to get done!!?” Right! That’s why you need to stop juggling 3-5 tasks at the same time and start doing this…


Maggie Jackson makes a strong case based on reliable MRI studies that focus on one thing at a time is the best way to get excellent results. It is the way the brain was meant to work and works best.

This may seem obvious but even while I was writing this I began to work on three other things that came to mind mind. It took me 20 minutes to get back to writing this line. And I know better!!

  • To achieve this focus we need to discipline our minds.
  • We need to clear our work space of distractions.
  • Turn your phone off or place it upside down.
  • If a great idea or other task comes to mind write it down and get back to it.

Do Many Tasks One at a Time

We often pride ourselves in being high capacity, high out put people. The best way to keep the quality of that out-put up is to complete a task from start to finish. Starting 3 other tasks in the middle of one or trying to keep some other thing going in the back ground only slows you down.

Even dealing with a phone call, email, or face book message in the middle of a task can damage the quality of your concentration. Some really demanding tasks like preparing a lesson, writing a newsletter, or reading may require that you remove yourself from all distractions for an hour or two.

Finish a Step Then Move On

Many projects include a series of tasks. Often they need to be completed in order. Some require having to way between steps. In this case while you are waiting to receive feed back or get results from the first step you can put aside and out of your mind for a while. During that time you can engage fully in the next task without checking your email or your texts every 2 minutes.

You May Need to Walk Away

This may seem contradictory. Strangely enough, sometimes to solve a problem you need to walk away from it. It’s surprising how putting a project aside for a while and engaging fully with another project can help bring a solution into focus. When we return to the original project we see it with fresh eyes and are more likely to have a clearer understanding.

A Test

  • What else have you done while reading the 500 words above?
  • What can you do to improve focus even when reading blogs?
  • How can you eliminate distractions, concentrate more deeply, and complete tasks with excellence?

The Pay Off

I had a psych prof who taught the class to improve our reading attention from 5 minutes to 6 hours. I’ve never achieved the 6 hours of deep concentration without daydreaming yet. I can do three, reading faster and remembering more.

Imagine what you could accomplish in 3 hours uninterrupted by distractions or interruptions! Try accomplishing one thing at a time this week. I’d love to hear how it goes!

I wrote a longer article on this if you like to see more of the research, follow this further.


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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email


  1. Hi, Ron –

    Loved this article. I’ve known for a long time that I am not a multi-tasker (and yes, who is?), and yet still in this culture feel the pressure to be so. And in ministry it can sometimes be worse – after all, I’ve heard a number of sermons about ministry being somewhat about allowing ourselves to be interrupted. I wasn’t sure I was able to focus until recently having to read 9 books and write about 9,000 words in one week. It is possible, but it takes discipline. And I actually think discipline is what we lack more than anything. Or maybe it is just me…..

    • Thanks so much for your comments Kathy. I think ministry promotes this idea of multi tasking but I think that you are right that the issue is discipline to focus, go deep, and some times shut our door. I think that in scripture we do have examples of interruptions but when interrupted these prophets or apostles gave their complete attention to the person in need. One task at a time. I think we need the permission to do this. Have a great day!

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