If you’ve spent any amount of time in the workforce, chances are, you’ve already been exposed to the multitasking myth. Juggling with more things at a time on the job leads to success, while monotasking is for losers. Such a culture tends to glorify those who manage to tackle a dozen projects all at once. You know, the hustlers who have their coffee in one hand, their smartphone in the other, an overwhelming slew of tabs open on their computer screen, and notifications buzzing every few minutes. But myths get busted sometimes and now it’s one of those times!
Clash of titans
While this narrow image is often upheld (or even expected), multitasking is actually not a realistic and effective use of time. As recent studies prove, the human brain is not wired for multitasking. In fact, research found that when the average person tries to multitask, they are less efficient and attentive to their work. They’re also more prone to distractions and errors.
Multitasking being the most effective way to manage your time is a myth. The real driving force of productivity is doing one thing at a time. And that is called monotasking.
In this month’s edition of The Productivity Box, let’s take a closer look at this clash of titans. We will learn why it’s high time to retire the multitasking myth and how to replace it with monotasking.
Why multitasking is not effective
When you attempt to multitask, it seems like you can get even more done. However, in most cases, by performing multiple tasks concurrently you’ll end up just switching between them. And that often results in leaving tasks incomplete.
Your brain’s neural pathways, in particular, the dorsal attention network, which helps you concentrate, are only built for one object of focus at a time. So, when multitasking, you override that natural wiring. Thus, the cognitive load on your brain increases, forcing it to work harder than necessary.
As a result, your brain’s response time—how quickly it can process and react to stimuli—will slow down. Ultimately, you will be less efficient and accurate on the job. Even media multitasking—such as listening to music, watching TV, or scrolling on social media while you work—can affect productivity.
In fact, studies show that heavy media multitaskers have a difficult time learning and recalling information, paying attention, and blocking out distractions.
The bottom line is clear. When you take on too much at once, your focus is split and your performance suffers. Fortunately, that’s when monotasking comes to the rescue.
Why you should be monotasking
As the name indicates, monotasking means investing all of your attention into one project and not moving on until it’s finished. This is the opposite of multitasking, of course.
When performed correctly, monotasking can improve both concentration and performance. Furthermore, you will be able to accomplish more in a workday.
Here are a few powerful benefits of monotasking.
Reduce your mental load
Rescue Time found that most employees switch between different applications more than 300 times a day. As mentioned earlier, all these back-and-forth switches will increase cognitive load.
In contrast, monotasking helps you reduce the number of mentally draining switches, so you can concentrate more. And better focus leads to higher productivity, as we already know.
Find your flow
When the brain can focus deeply on a single project with no distractions, it’s easier to access a flow state. This means you’re entirely immersed in a task to the point where nothing else matters.
Be more efficient
When you’re not switching from one task to the next, you actually get more done in less time. On busy workdays, this can mean the difference between closing your computer at 5pm vs. 8pm.
Tap into your creativity
Setting aside a block of uninterrupted time for each item on your to-do list unlocks the brain’s potential for creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
This is an opportunity to find new solutions, brainstorm ideas, tap into innovation, or test out processes that might not have occurred to you otherwise.
Because life is chaotic and schedules are busy, it’s not always possible to eliminate all the external distractions that compete for your attention. But you can cultivate a monotasking mindset to prioritize your to-do list, rein in your focus, manage time efficiently, and maximize productivity.
Here’s how to shift your mindset to focus on monotasking, rather than multitasking:
- Work when your performance is at its peak. This means your brain is ready for work so you can go all-in on your projects. At such a time, you will also might be less prone to distractions.
- Limit distractions that might encourage you to multitask. For example, don’t leave your email open. Simply close it and re-open it when you’re done. You might also put your phone on silent, so you aren’t tempted to check it.
- Prioritize rest. Monotasking isn’t about working non-stop. It’s about focusing on one task at a time. When you finish one thing, step away and take a break before jumping into the next.
- Have everything you need for your task ready to go. Make sure you have access to all the files, details, and assets you need so you can get it done without switching your focus.
Give monotasking a try
While you might be able to switch back and forth from one activity to another, you can’t actually do all of those things with optimal efficiency and accuracy. When your focus is pulled in two opposite directions, performance will inevitably suffer.
Multitasking is a myth, it’s just not how our human brain is wired to function. Practice monotasking and simply reap the productivity gains.