How to Be More Productive in One Easy Step
Here’s a fun fact: we juggle a lot more than our ancestors did. Once upon a time, each individual within a community had a specialty that they handled — they didn’t handle them all, every minute, hour, and day. In modern times, we attempt to be a Jack of all trades, handling work, child rearing, errand running, cooking, cleaning, and many other tasks. It can be overwhelming, exhausting, and stressful, but I have a simple method that can help: the one-touch method.
Before I dig in, let’s cover the psychology behind managing, or rather, not managing your to-do list. Have you ever felt this nagging feeling that something wasn’t done? Have you ever been relaxing and then had random undone things pop into your head, disrupting your peace and quiet? Have you ever dragged an unimportant task from one to-do list to the next, and the next, and the next (or, in my case, from one time block of my digital calendar to another, and another, and another)? Then you likely suffer from mental clutter.
What is mental clutter?
Mental clutter is anything that distracts you from the task at hand, typically something that you meant to do, but for whatever reason was not completed. It can kill your productivity and throw even the most well-intentioned time management strategy out the window. Mental clutter is no joke — it can cause distractions, stress, cognitive dysfunction, and impaired memory.
What is the one-touch method?
It can be difficult to build better habits, but the one-touch method is simple: as soon as you touch an item, you deal with it. This single-focused approach seems easy, but in our multitasking obsessed society, mindfulness is a practice that we overlook. One-touch means that you put your sole attention on one thing until it is completed. If you open an email, you read it, respond, file it, or delete it immediately. If you dirty a mug, instead of setting it in the sink, you wash it, dry it, and put it away right away. If you have a receipt you have to save, you scan it, file it, or box it as soon as possible.
What are the benefits of single-tasking?
Besides the obvious benefit of getting things accomplished once and for all, there are a ton of benefits of taking the one-touch method approach. If you’ve ever done archery or something similar, you know that the best way to get a bullseye is to aim at one target, not five. There’s a reason that splitting your focus doesn’t work — you cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. Single-tasking increases your ability to focus, meaning that you can increase your productivity and time that you can spend on a task by learning to focus on one thing. Clearing mental clutter will help you reduce stress by calming your brain and keeping it from reacting. When we react, our brains send all sorts of chemicals out, even if they’re not actually needed. Once upon a time, we needed those chemicals to keep us safe, but now they make us stressed, sick, and overweight. Gaining focus and clearing the mental clutter will make you healthier in the long run.
I’m bad at focusing — where do I start?
My personal favorite method of learning to focus is to make it a daily practice. I try to carve out time every week where I put myself in time out. This means that I get away from all distractions and work on one thing at a time. If needed, I set a timer and try not to watch the clock — no email, no social media, no phone, door closed, no interruptions welcome — peace, quiet, and maybe a little background music. Some days this results in 20-minutes of doodling and nothing productive, but more often than not, I jump in and knock out a few nagging tasks.
The best way to prevent the mental clutter that multitasking can bring is to deal with things as they come, but remember — IT TAKES PRACTICE. Do better work with the one-touch method and watch some of that unnecessary stress and mental distress disappear!