How focusing on one task can make us more productive, less scattered and attentive.
Multi-tasking versus Monotasking
For years many of us, particularly women wore the art of multitasking as a badge of honor. Now, thanks to studies we are finding out that multi-tasking isn’t as beneficial or efficient as it was made out to be. Intrinsically, the human brain is not designed to focus on multiple things, rather it is akin to cleaving the left and right side of the brain instead of allowing it to function harmoniously at its maximum capacity. Multi-tasking is not comparable to juggling, rather it is more along the lines of switching between tasks causing attention residue, undetermined amounts of stress that impedes the output and quality of work.
Monotasking, as the name suggests adopts the strategy of pursuing one task at a time, dedicating effort, attention and focus until it is completed or some part accomplished. Until such time, potential interruptions are kept to the minimum, allowing one to retain concentration and attention. Dr. Bryant Adibe, Physician and Chief Wellness Officer at Mount Saint Mary’s University, LA and frequent contributor to Huffington Post says, "At the end of our lives, no one will remember how quickly we responded to emails; and no one on their deathbed asks for more time to sit through another budget meeting. Instead, we look for more time to do and experience the things that give us meaning and a sense of purpose. That is at the core of mono-tasking - it is about rethinking the way we work so that we can more meaningfully engage with our environment."
Changing our mindset
Reading about how we multitask, I discovered that our brain shifts its attention sequentially between the activities we juggle, in other words “task switching”. No wonder it is not really considered productive. Even though many of these shuffled acts occurs in a fraction of a second, they can still decrease productivity by a dramatic 40%. These can be mundane tasks like being interrupted when composing an email, notification dings and or even talking to children and cooking at the same time. No wonder the trend is to advocate monotasking with every activity, whether it is work, play or personal self-care.
Most often and unconsciously we are our own enemy. With a desire to be productive and armed with a long To-Do List, we start off our day juggling, eating breakfast, making phone calls, scrolling our emails, running to the car, barking instructions to someone…. you get the picture. It is often one long hustle from the moment we open our eyes. Instead let’s pause, take a step back and ask ourselves a couple of questions before launching headlong into the day. What can I do today that brings me a sense of meaning and purpose instead of busy work? Is it possible to come up with one or two important tasks that will have greatest impact? Finally, how can we ensure that we don’t lose focus on the things that actually matter, when faced with a multiple of busy tasks?
One of the first steps towards monotasking is to adopt deep work. The ability to focus on demanding work is what defines deep work. Assignments that require a higher level of cognitive ability, without giving way to distractions for an allotted period of time. Consciously adopting this method allows one to produce outstanding quality in every task undertaken be it a research paper, a presentation or a homework assignment. Instead of working in bursts of shallow attention spans, deep work allows sustained focus, engagement and time management.
Another key task is to zero in on one’s most productive period. This means being aware of the hours when we can function at our peak - in terms of being physically fresh, mentally alert, less distracted and most likely to have a breakthrough moment. To keep us on an even keel we need to keep our distractions to a minimum, turning off our notifications, and structuring our day effectively to retain our laser focus. Will you be surprised to know that an average smartphone user, checks their phone at least 150 times in a day?! No wonder our attention slides and shifts when we to multi task and try to keep up with stuff.
At the end of the day, it is healthy to wind down by emptying our mind, giving it the much needed rest and engaging in activities to reduce stress like taking a walk, reading a book, listening to music, meditating or activities that are restful and calming.
Does this resonate with you? Or does mono tasking sound too impossible to adopt in the world of digital distractions? I have just begun taking the first baby steps in that direction, finding that I am less exhausted and emerge more satisfied at the end of a mono tasked day. I have begun blocking chunks of time for relevant tasks, without being distracted by my Instagram feeds and WhatsApp notifications. Everyone has to find the rhythms that works best for them, but being in the know of these trends is yet another vital, awareness tool to share.
We are stronger together