Single-tasking is good for you!

My "old" Macbook Air had a limit of 2GB of RAM and although it's a limit I wasn't happy about (and I just got the new Air with 4GB of RAM and more room to breathe), it actually helped me develop a good habit of launching less applications at a time and do a lot more single-tasking than multi-tasking.
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Computers and humans get tired when switching too much between apps and tasks

I noticed that switching between many applications I had open quickly became tiring for me and after each switch it took me a longer period of time to focus on what I had to do next. At the same time, my laptop (with more and more apps open) needed more time to switch between these as well. And when you have 2 GB of RAM, at some point you hit the limit and the slow disk-cache needs to be used. Apparently we're not that different from computers after all. We both are getting tired with too many apps open at a time.

Clutter leads to distractions while beauty and zen lead to productivity

With more clutter and smaller icons in the Application Switcher it's hard to find what you're searching for and it's easier to get distracted. In Mac OSX the icons in the Application Switcher (Cmd+TAB on a Mac and ALT+TAB on Windows) are bigger the less apps you have open and are smaller the more you have them running. I must say it's visually very rewarding when you see nice, big, gorgeous looking icons in front of you, so the less apps I have open, the more beautiful the icons become. And this pretty sight makes me feel better... and this makes me more productive and motivated to get stuff done.

Hard drive opens faster than saves files... and you get turbo speed with SSD disk

When the RAM is full, the computer starts to save data on the hard disk and it's a lot slower than the RAM memory. But the hard disk opens apps very fast, especially when you have one of the new SSD drives (like the one on the new Macbook Airs from Apple). This makes the habit of quitting apps even more appealing. When you need them, you open them up quickly. When you don't, just quit them.

iPad and iPhone help develop single-tasking habit

Thanks to heavy use of  both my iPhone and my iPad recently, I learned to appreciate doing one thing at a time (which is a must because of their small screen real estate). This also helped me create a new habit of closing apps and opening them only as needed. Now, on my laptop, I have just a few apps open all of the time - Browsers (Opera and Chrome), Evernote for note-taking, Nozbe (as a fluid stand-alone app) and Finder which has to be launched all of the time. Mail and other apps are opened only when I need to use them.

Learn to single-task and focus on the task at hand. Experts are with me on this one.

Many studies have shown that single-tasking it more effective, efficient and creates a more focused environment than constantly multi-tasking. And as I've written above, you don't get tired, your computer doesn't slow down and you're getting a lot done. The cool thing is that although I got the faster Air with 4GB of RAM I'm still quitting apps as ususal. My good habit keeps me very productive. Good luck!

Are you a single-tasker or multi-tasker? Did you try to single-task more? What helps you focus better?

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Posted on Monday, November 22, 2010 (apple,productivity)

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Tomasz Mioduszewski
Nov 23, 2010 09:36
As I'm running on windows, it was long ago that I found that too many apps makes my work a nightmare. Few apps its much better and much faster to see the overall image of the task.
But many times the biggest distraction is called "the internet" and a mood telling me "do nothing". Thats something to fight!
p.s. Congrats on your new toy :) what about the keyboard backlit? I don't believe that Steve took that off....
Vincenzo Vecchio
Nov 24, 2010 22:44
I totally agree with you Michael. We should all go back to single-tasking. One point though: our apps are often web apps. Having only a web browser open with 10 tabs is still considered single-tasking? :)
Michael Sliwinski
Nov 25, 2010 10:21
Having 10 tabs in Internet browser open is still multi-tasking... so you should fight that too. I'm trying to close the browser tabs if I don't need them. If I want to keep a note of an article I either clip it to Evernote or send it to delicious... or star it in Google Reader.

I always close Google Reader or Gmail when I'm done with them. I don't keep those open. Single-tasking, Vincenzo - thanks for your comment.

Tomasz - thanks for your comment - yes the new toy rocks. It's how the Macbook Air should have been in the first place. Finally they made it right and I have really nothing to complain about here - I'll post a review soon. The backlit keyboard is not missed. It did look cool on the old Air and it's a nice-to-have feature, but as a touch-typist I don't really need it.