You’ve probably heard of multitasking. The ability to perform more than one task at once has often been lauded in our society as a superior skill. What doesn’t get the same air time? Monotasking — or being hyperfocused on one task at hand.
Multitasking has long been a hot keyword targeted by AI on resumes and touted in interviews. Employers often tell candidates they need talent that can both multitask and wear several hats. Multitasking has even become the target of coffee mug humor. “I’m great at multitasking; I can listen and forget all at the same time.”
But how beneficial is multitasking? Do we really have the ability to perform many tasks at once? Or does the quality of our tasks take a back seat when we’re spreading our focus?
For those of you who might not know, February is Monotasking Month. So, let’s dive deep into this lesser-known skill, flesh out its benefits, and discover once and for all which way of tackling tasks reigns supreme: monotasking or multitasking.
What is Monotasking?
“Monotasking is a reminder to focus on one task at a time.”
Wait, a reminder to focus on one task at a time? According to research at Duke University, we’re so used to switching back and forth between tasks that focusing on one sole task may feel physically difficult to most of us.
Benefits of Monotasking
Monotasking doesn’t just produce a more satisfying workflow — it can lead to better quality results and efficiently completed tasks. Some of the benefits of monotasking may include higher productivity rates, better quality work, and less burnout.
Higher Productivity Rates
No matter whether you’re working from home or in the office, If you’re able to stay hyperfocused on one task, you’re more likely to complete that task in less time. Choose your most important task of the day and focus on that task first — no distractions.
Better Quality Results
When you’re able to stay focused on an important task, you’re less likely to make mistakes. When you’re distracted, it’s more likely you’ll miss important details or forget what you’re doing altogether.
Less Burnout with Monotasking
Focusing on one task at a time can put you into a state of flow and actually energize you. Instead of feeling depleted or as if you’ve been working for hours without accomplishing anything, monotasking can help you feel productive and satisfied with your work.
With burnout and fatigue — especially Zoom fatigue — major issues these days, any tip that helps reduce these common issues are welcome in our home office.
How to Monotask
Monotasking is sort of like meditation.
We’re so used to our attention pulled in different directions that it actually feels good (and natural) to do so. Focusing our attention on one task can feel boring, unproductive (or even scary if we feel we’re not getting enough done).
Thatcher Wine, the author of The Twelve Monotasks: Do One Thing At A Time To Do Everything Better, teaches the process of monotasking is the same as meditation. Whenever you feel your attention pulled to another task, simply acknowledge it and return to the task at hand.
The more we try to ignore these nagging thoughts, the more pronounced they become.
Isolate Peak Performance Times
We all have peak performance times throughout the day — or times when our energy is high and we have a greater ability to stay focused.
For some of us, it’s first thing in the morning (while others may need their coffee before these hyper-focused sessions).
Keep a journal or calendar of your daily tasks. Write down which task you completed and label it easy, medium, or difficult. Note the time of day. What was your energy like during this task? What time of day is it easier to complete these tasks?
The Pomodoro Technique
So, how long are we able to stay hyper-focused anyway? According to the Pomodoro Technique, about 25 minutes at a time.
The problem with being hyper-focused on one task is that it’s impossible to stay so focused for long periods of time. Our brains can’t stay so focused on a task at hand (unless we’re in a flow state) without feeling fatigued.
Studies show that focusing on a task for 25-minute intervals with five-minute breaks in between (and longer breaks every hour or so) is an efficient way to monotask without burnout.
Of course, there’s an app for that. In fact, we recommend several productivity apps to keep you monotasking all day long.
Distractions are a part of life. The goal isn’t to live a life without distraction; it’s to deal with distractions effectively as they arise.
Whenever a thought or alert threatens to derail your monotasking, simply acknowledge it and return your focus. If the thought or alert is too important to set aside mentally, keep a list of, “distractions to handle later.”
Making a small note to return a call or make an appointment will allow you to let go of the worry that you’ll forget about it later.
While we’re on the topic, how about minimizing as many distractions as possible? Silence your alerts during your hyper-focused monotasking sessions.
If you’re worried about missing a call from your child’s school, change the settings on your phone to allow those alerts to come through.
Most fires can wait 25 minutes to be put out (unless they’re actual fires, which most so-called “fires” are not).
Automate Distractions when monotasking
While some distractions need your personal attention at some point during the day, it’s also possible to automate some of the most common distractions.
Unsubscribe from those annoying emails; set up an automated email reply, explaining which emails you’ll respond to and when; or train an assistant to help handle some of these tasks.
What about multitasking? Is there a time and a place for it?
As it turns out, multitasking isn’t the act of performing multiple tasks at once: instead, it’s switching between tasks, back and forth.
So, is there a time and a place for multitasking?
Possibly. Remember that list of distractions you’ve been keeping throughout your monotasking sessions? Schedule a block of time at the end of your day to knock them out.
Tasks that don’t need to take up too much of your time (or don’t need too much brainpower to finish) may be easier to switch between.