Multitasking – Not The Skill You Thought It Was: Why Monotasking Is Superior

Have you ever watched someone juggle? 

Items effortlessly tossed into the air and from one hand to the next, an unbroken circle of tangibility seeming to float in sequence. Nothing drops, nothing suffers, the gaze of onlookers also remains unbroken. 

This is the usual picture in our minds when we think of multitasking. Effortless. Unbroken. Sequence. Nothing drops. Nothing suffers. 

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case. 

And, why is it that we’ve been conditioned to think otherwise? 

I mean, have you ever tried to actually juggle? It’s no simple task! And, neither is multitasking: in work, with family, or life in general.

In fact, experts are finding that juggling multiple tasks at once simply isn’t the skill we once thought it was. 

Multitasking Vs. Monotasking Explained

In true multitasking, you’re working on more than one task at a time. And, in theory this seems like a solid method of efficiency. 

Multitasking is often hailed as a great way to make the most of your time. 

And, those who seem to be pros at multitasking once seemed more valuable to employers. 

I mean, if you can make a work call while you’re making dinner, or send out emails while tuning in to a zoom meeting, why not “kill two birds with one stone,” as the saying goes. 

However, what we often fail to realize, as in this age-old saying, is that something dies in this scenario. 

That’s right, what we’re coming to realize is that dividing our attention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

Enter monotasking. 

Monotasking is essentially the opposite of multitasking. 

Instead of juggling multiple tasks at once, monotasking focuses on one task at a time, giving your full attention to a single job, person, or task. 

And, it is this method that is proving most productive! 

Take a look at the following woes associated with multitasking versus the wins of monotasking…

Multitasking Woes

1- Decreases Productivity

A Stanford University study found that those individuals who regularly multitask were far less productive than monotaskers, as such individuals were not able to recall information, focus, or switch to other tasks as efficiently.

2- Impairs Memory

Those who multitask as a way of life are said to have higher levels of cortisol, which is known to damage the portion of the brain associated with memory. 

3- Hinders Performance

Our brains are wired for singular focus. So, when seeking to tackle multiple tasks at once, the brain cannot perform these tasks successfully. 

Regular multitaskers have been found to perform worse than monotaskers as they struggle to filter information and appropriately organize their thoughts. 

One study found that multitasking via smartphone caused the mind to wonder, increasing the likelihood of errors. 

4- Lowers IQ

Research conducted at the University of London found those who multitask cognitive tasks experienced a decline in IQ. 

In fact, this decline was equivalent to IQ dips seen in those smoking marijuana or in individuals who are sleep deprived.

The multitasking men in this particular study were found to experience IQ drops of 15 points or more, putting them in the average IQ range of an 8 year old boy!

5- Damages The Brain

Did you know that multitasking actually damages your brain? Many once thought this damage to be temporary, but new research tells a different story.

MRIs done on the brains of those who are considered high multitaskers showed less brain density in such individuals, particularly in regions of the brain associated with empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control. 

Much of this research is centered around the effects of multitasking through the use of devices, and neuroscientists believe this to be a wake up call to make us aware of how the overuse of such devices can alter the way we think as well as our actual brain structure.

6- Decreases Self & Social Awareness

Two emotional intelligence skills have been determined to be critical for success at work: self awareness and social awareness. 

And, as we just saw above, research suggests multitasking can cause damage to the part of the brain associated with both empathy and emotional control, both directly related to emotional intelligence skills. 

7- Reduced Creativity

Both creativity and productivity are said to increase when focusing on a singular task. 

When multitasking, the flow of work is disrupted, hindering creativity. 

Artists, musicians, writers, etc. all report similar findings, claiming that creativity (and productivity) suffers when “the flow of work” is disrupted. 

**It is important to note, if you already struggle with concentration, focus, and organization, multitasking can exacerbate these things, making it all the more crucial for you to avoid this practice. 

Monotasking Wins

1- Reduces Stress

Switching back and forth between multiple tasks puts stress on our brains. We saw in the section above that this process actually prompts the release of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. 

Focusing on a single task at once decreases the amount of stress you are putting on your brain. 

Dividing your attention between too many tasks at once can also increase anxiety. 

Making the switch to monotasking can reduce this anxiety, improving both mental and physical health. 

2- Improves Accuracy & Quality

As you seek to focus on only one task at a time, over time your ability to focus actually improves. 

And, while this could be a heading on its own (improved focus), the greater result here is that an improvement in focus leads to a better quality of work. 

The work you do, when focusing on one task at a time, produces more accurate results. 

In fact, research shows that dividing your attention between multiple tasks leads to 50% more errors. 

Monotasking, on the other hand, helps you to increase focus, work harder, and do your best. 

3- Boosts Productivity

Improved accuracy means that your productivity increases as well. 

That’s right, you can actually get more done, when monotasking! 

It’s easy to think that getting multiple things done at once means you’ll get more done overall, but studies prove when you focus on one task at a time, you’re able to be more productive. 

4- Increases Attention Span

In this post Covid life, Apple estimates that its users open their phones up to 150 times per day! 

Why mention this stat in reference to attention span? 

We are continually bombarded with distractions. And, for those who are prone to multitasking, these distractions have become something we live with, something we function inside of

In 2018, it was estimated that the average person only focused for 8 second periods in the office. Four years later, opening phones 150+ times per day, I’d say attention span is something that needs to be put on the endangered list! 

Teachers are reporting an inability of students to focus at an earlier age as well, so this doesn’t concern adults alone. 

To improve our attention span, we’ve got to practice! 

Ditching our multitasking tendencies, training our bodies to focus on one task at a time (our brains are wired for such focus already), improves focus, and in time can increase attention span. 

Through monotasking, your attention span can be expanded and rebuilt.

5- Improves Relationships

We learned in the section above that recent research suggests a portion of the brain associated with social and emotional control is damaged through multitasking. By seeking to focus on single tasks, you improve this control.

And, as you monotask your time with friends, colleagues, and loved ones, solely focusing on the people you’re with or the activity you’re doing together, you improve these relationships. 

In today’s day and time, who hasn’t felt slighted when with a friend or loved one who pays more attention to their screen than your conversation? 

Monotasking your time with people improves those relationships!  

6- Boost Mood

Believe it or not, monotaskers are happier! 

As you train yourself to focus on one task at a time, you inevitably practice living in the moment.

Monotasking focuses on what is “in the moment.” 

As you live your life seeking to focus singularly on the present moment, you can join the multitudes of people who report being happier as a result of living this way. 

7- Boosts Energy

Multitasking requires your brain to work harder as it processes an onslaught of information coming from all angles. 

Monotasking gives your brain a break, requires less energy expenditure, conserving it for other tasks. 

And, as you complete single tasks in a shorter amount of time, compared to multitasking, you’ll have time and energy to spare.

Tips For Monotasking Success

So, how can you reap the rewards of monotasking?

Here are a few tips to consider as you seek to improve your focus and boost productivity through monotasking: 

  • Since our phones can be a huge distraction, seek to keep your phone away from your workstation or simply turn off notifications while focusing on a specific task. 
  • If you’re working on a computer, close other tabs (including email) when focusing on a single task. 
  • Practice mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to foster a greater ability to focus. 
  • Be honest with yourself about distractions. Identify those things which distract you the most, and find ways to remove such distractions or at least keep them at bay. 
  • Plan a timeframe for each task, and work solely on that task during that time. Essentially, you can practice monotasking. An example, set a timer for 20 minutes and practice focusing on a single task until the time expires. 
  • As you plan, seek to make a list of things you need to do, then divide these into single tasks to accomplish. 
  • Listen to music proven to increase focus and improve concentration. Classical and electronic music as well as white noise have been shown to boost productivity. 
  • Over time you may find that you work best at a certain time of day. Utilize this knowledge and seek to tackle your hardest tasks during this time. 
  • Take breaks. When monotasking, seek to finish a task, then take a break before starting another task. And, if one task is particularly long, plan to work for roughly 30 minutes, then take a short break before returning to that same task. 


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