Task #1: Start Monotasking


What are you doing in addition to reading this article? How many tabs on your browser do you have open? Chances are you are multitasking. Multitasking used to be considered a skill, in the modern age it’s a way of life. But guess what? It’s not good for you. You should be monotasking instead.

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The study found that people who are constantly provided with numerous streams of information cannot pay attention, retain or remember information, or switch from one task to another. Other studies have even gone so far as to claim that multitasking can contribute to a lower GPA and an increase in risk behaviors including use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in high schoolers.

All of these studies conclude that those who monotask outperform those who multitask. What is monotasking? And why does it work? How does one multitask? It’s certainly a practice that requires a strong degree of discipline but it’s a method that promises increased productive output.

What is Monotasking?

Montasking is the lost art of focusing on a single task, making it a priority and tunneling all of your energy and attention towards its completion. It’s celebrated and used by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and  Peter Thiel of PayPal who believe that productive output is diminished if your focus is lost or dispersed. They deal with one thought, idea or project at a time and have mastered the ability to put the blinkers on tune out distractions.

Why Monotask?

Science says when faced with two tasks your brain can comfortably divide focus a clean 50% divide between both. However, three or more and your brain cannot compute. Studies have proven that the introduction of the third task causes your brain to start crashing, and you’re more prone to mistakes and slower response times. Monotasking forces you to focus on one task at a time which means not only are you getting something done, uninterrupted from start to finish, you are also putting meaningful thought behind it.

It’s also way less stressful than multitasking. It requires you to use less mental and physical energy than juggling all of those balls. It’s an honest indicator of how long it takes for you to work on a particular task from start to finish. Chances are – you’ll complete it much quicker if you put some monotask behind it. Then armed with that important insight about yourself, you’ll find that you can make smarter decisions about your time management and capabilities. Finally, the satisfying feeling of seeing something through to the end without checking your email, joining a conference call or updating your Facebook status make it even that much sweeter.

How to Monotask

Sold on the idea? You’ll probably need some guidelines to get you into the habit of monotasking. Distractions are distracting, but exercising some of these will be helpful in adjusting our focus.

  1. Make a to-do list and realistic time frame.
    List out the goals you hope to achieve for the day, week, or month. Then list out the items which require the most immediate attention and set your mind to ensuring you complete these tasks as a matter of priority. Give yourself adequate time until you learn more about how long it takes for you to finish a certain task.
  2. Create downtime and disconnect
    Step away from the desk and take a walk every so often. This gives your brain some time to recharge so that you can come back and give your full attention to the task at hand.
  3. Turn off your notifications
    Switch your phone onto airplane mode, disable your notifications, turn off the ringer – whatever it takes to ensure your focus is purely channeled into your task. This is probably the hardest part of monotasking, but it may be necessary if you want to push all of your attention on one thing and minimize distractions as much as possible.

When it’s okay to multitask

Now you may be thinking to yourself that you are king of multitasking and it allows you to get more things done at the same time so monotasking is not the life for you. But life is about variety, right? In fact, the ideal situation according to psychologist Shelley Carson is to be able to multitask when multitasking is appropriate, and focus when focusing is important.

No one expects you to become a monotasking rockstar overnight, so practice it when you can and default to multitasking when you can’t. A good start would be to take note of which tasks you think you can give your full attention to, and bundle the others together as multitasks. Or take note of days or times in the day when your focus is weaker and use that time to multitask. After all, that’s a much better use of your time than trying to will your mind to approach a singular task that you do not have the energy or mental capacity to do.

Also, multitasking between tasks that don’t use up the same part of your brain can actually be really beneficial. For example, reading while you’re running on a treadmill or knitting while you watch TV. These are both classic examples of fulfilling two tasks and finding the joy in multitasking.

So there you have it, close all your web browser tabs, turn off your phone, make some lists and get to work!

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