After years of being told that multitasking is the pinnacle of productivity, we’ve learned it isn’t. Research shows that multitasking actually makes us less effective and more prone to errors, plus the lack of productivity it leads to costs the global economy an estimated $450 billion annually.
The solution? Some say it’s monotasking, or single-tasking. The act of focusing on a single project or task at a time is emerging as one answer to peak personal and professional productivity.
Dr. Jenny Brockis, a specialist in brain health and high-performance thinking, told the Australian website Whimn that the key to boosting one’s attention is to first identify and corral distractions. Then, she said, complete and undivided attention should be applied to one thing at a time.
That’s not easy. Recent research suggests that our phones — and tablets and smart watches and smart speakers — are the main culprits behind waning productivity. Reports show that some of us unlock our phones between 110 to 150 times per day.
“Our gadgets and all the things we look at on them are designed to not let us single-task,” Manoush Zomorodi, the host and managing editor of WNYC Studios’ “Note to Self” podcast, told The New York Times.
That was echoed by Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas. “Smartphones create dumb people because they are, in large part, invitations to multitask,” Markman told an audience at PCMA Convening Leaders 2017. “Your brain doesn’t want to do several things at once. Instead, your brain does one thing at a time.”
And why are we so tired at the end of a full day of multitasking? Humans have finite neural resources, Zomorodi told the Times, that are depleted every time we switch between tasks. That can happen — especially for those who work online — more than 400 times a day, she added, citing a University of California study.
Experts say the keys to mastering monotasking are managing your time and blocking distractions. So, they say, silence the notifications across all of your devices. And the next time you have a conversation, practice monotasking, Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist, lecturer at Stanford and the author of The Willpower Instinct, told the Times. “Practice how you listen to people,” she said. “Put down anything that’s in your hands and turn all of your attentional channels to the person who is talking. … If you want to see a benefit from monotasking, if you want to have any kind of social rapport or influence on someone, that’s the place to start. That’s where you’ll see the biggest payoff.”
Entrepreneur Amy Vetter, in an Inc. column, suggests montotasking strategies ranging from listing each day’s top priorities to pacing yourself by creating timed work and rest intervals.
“In the fast-paced daily world of business, ping-ponging between tasks during the day has become the norm,” Vetter wrote. “But if you want to work better (and smarter) and see the results of your efforts then monotasking is the right approach.
“Remember it’s not how much you do that matters, but rather how well you do it, and what you can actually say you accomplished at day’s end.”