Updated: Sep 16, 2022
I grew up feeling that if I wasn't doing at least two things at once, I was wasting my time. Every time we watched TV, you needed to be doing something else as well, cooking, sewing or even playing solitaire. It also seems that every other job posting is requesting people to multitask (as if it is some special sought after skill that none of us possess).
Our lives now revolve around multi-tasking. I am managing my children and each of their schedules, all our meals, the dog, taking care of the lawn, the house, oh...and my job. Need I remind you that each of these tasks involve multiple steps, people, resources, timing, etc.? My personal google calendar is so full of multiple colored blocks, and I dare not commit to anything before referring to the magical keeper of my time. I also have GTD (get things done) apps to keep lists and prioritize everything that I need to do. Then the pandemic hits and everyone cries out to take time for ourselves on top of everything else.
Now that we are being constantly pinged and bombarded with multi-media assaults, the demands on our brains to multi-task have greatly intensified. Our culture has grown to value busyness and believe that we are somehow more efficient if we work on multiple tasks at once....how else is it possible?
However, the science seems to support that multi-tasking as a productivity tool is a lie. We are actually much more effective and productive when we focus on one task at a time, or, 'mono-task'.
Evidently, multi-tasking is a misnomer to begin with since our brain is actually designed to handle only one task at a time. Therefore, when we multi-task, we are actually constantly task switching, and task switching takes a toll on our health.
Multi-tasking actually increases our stress and makes us less effective - especially with more cognitively demanding tasks. Consider the amount of time you lose simply checking your email multiple times a day. We are also more likely to make mistakes when we multi-task. Students who multi-task perform worse on exams. People form negative opinions of us when we multi-task, so it can affect our relationships and promotions. Basically, it seems the old adage of 'jack of all trades and master of none' is actually true. The more we try to do at once, the less well we actually do any of it. The tasks themselves are not done to the same quality, and it takes a toll on our physical and emotional health when we are trying to accomplish so much at once.
Leaders excel when they can solve problems and maintain good relations with their employees. By focusing on one task at a time, leaders will be able to harness more mental energy to that task and be more effective decision makers. Leaders also earn the respect of their employees when the employees feel heard by their leaders, and one of the most effective ways of letting employees feel heard is simply to focus on them when they address you.
Mono-tasking allows us to think more deeply and effectively. By focusing on the people around you, you can create a deeper sense of connection. By focusing on one task at a time, you will experience more states of joy and flow.
So how can you achieve this magical flow state of joy and mono-task?
How to 'Mono-Task'?
I will talk about these specific ideas more in future posts, but here are some brief ideas:
If someone comes to talk to you, stop what you are doing at look at them in the eyes. Although many of us have WAY too much to do and feel we need to keep working, the person will probably not take as much of our time if they feel heard. They will feel heard when you look at them and give them your full attention. It will improve your relationship, and they will leave you more time to attend to other tasks.
Block similar tasks so that you aren't checking your email 10 times a day just once per day. That way you will more efficiently use your time by having only one time that you open the app and switch mental gears. As a teacher, for example, I would group all of my needs to go up to the front office to one trip a day so I wouldn't lose time for each separate trip.
Set time limits and certain times for your tasks. For example, set a time each day to work on a given task, and stop when you have reached your time limit, but don't do anything else except the planned task. You can block these times in your calendar or try something like the pomodoro technique.
Turn off notifications for emails and social media or even try a focus mode so that you aren't tempted by the dark side.
Meditation helps you to train your brain to notice when your brain is going a million directions and be present in the moment.
Champion the AGILE work method by encouraging teams to focus on one project step at a time in short sprints (yes, you can mono-task at work!!)
Call to Action
Challenge yourself to focus on one task (or person) at a time starting with the suggestions above. Try adding one activity each week and see if you can decrease your stress, and improve your effectiveness and relationships by mono-tasking.
“10 Real Risks of Multitasking, to Mind and Body.” Psychology Today, 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201606/10-real-risks-multitasking-mind-and-body.
Wendy Rose Gould. “Multitasking: Bad for Productivity. Why You Should Be Monotasking.” TODAY.com, TODAY, 3 May 2022, www.today.com/health/mind-body/multitasking-bad-productivity-monotasking-rcna26968.
Southern. “To Multitask or Not to Multitask | USC Online.” USC MAPP Online, 29 Mar. 2016, appliedpsychologydegree.usc.edu/blog/to-multitask-or-not-to-multitask/.
Madore, Kevin P., and Anthony D. Wagner. “Multicosts of Multitasking.” Cerebrum : The Dana Forum on Brain Science, vol. 2019, The Dana Foundation, 2019, p. cer-04-19, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7075496/.
https://www.facebook.com/Health. “12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking.” Health, 2016, www.health.com/condition/adhd/12-reasons-to-stop-multitasking-now.
Asana. “Asana.” Asana, 2022, asana.com/resources/multitasking.