The Art of Single Tasking

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Photos By: Mike Kalika


Multi-tasking doesn’t work so well. We’ve been duped. It sure seems like we’re doing more if we’re listening to a podcast and writing an article, but in fact we’re kidding ourselves and half-assing both projects.

I’m going to assume that everyone reading this knows both their ABCs and 123s, or at least enough to do this simple exercise.

Say, “ABCDEFG” quickly.

Now say, “1234567” just as quickly.

Now alternate the letters and numbers without reading them off of this page (reading is another singular task and won’t require you to actually switch gears. Say, “A1B2C3D4E5F6G7”.

Please laugh at yourself instead of getting mad about it. How much more mental effort did it take when you tried to shift back and forth between two things you know very well? I can usually get to “D4” or “E5” before it all goes to crap. You lost a little time every time you tried to change gears. Use this exercise next time you’re trying to explain to your coworkers (or kids) that it’s very important you aren’t to be disturbed when you’re working on something.

Perhaps you like the social aspect of Jiu-Jitsu and are able to chat a bit in class during drilling. That’s fine, but remember that you will not advance as much in the sport if you do so. It’s up to you to measure what is a greater quality of life contributor, and I’m not here to say one is wrong. (More on giving your best during drilling here).

Rene Marois, director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University, showed that people doing two tasks simultaneously took up to 30% longer and they made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence.[1]

Success in Jiu-Jitsu is measured in tenths of seconds of response time and certainly favors those who make fewer errors. When learning a sequence of movements that link together, remember why they are a sequence in the first place. Focus on putting your all into one thing at a time, even if that thing changes a quarter of a second later. If you really try to execute the first part you will either get it or cause a fairly predictable set of possible responses from your opponent. If you don’t focus on the first move, the move you are actually trying to execute, you’re less likely to get the responses you expected and depended upon to get the second or third moves. You may even surprise yourself and actually get the first part of a sequence if you really go after it.

You may find that it’s hard not to multitask for a while. Exercises outside of the classroom that promote mindfulness and control can be as simple as looking up breathing exercises on YouTube or downloading an app like Headspace.

The more you’re in control of yourself the more you’ll be in control of your opponent. Focus, practice focusing, and feel the rewards manifest throughout your life.


[1] Caroline Webb, How to Have a Good Day