Blog Post: Forget Multitasking, Try Monotasking

4 Sep 2017
10 Mins Read

Forget Multitasking, Try Monotasking

You might want to rethink the idea that multitasking effectively helps you meet all your deadlines at work!

Deadlines used to be the death of me. I was so focused on meeting them that I would be intent on doing two to three things at once — despite knowing at the back of my head that the quality of work I produced would suffer.

When faced with too many things to do at a go, I tended to multitask, and ultimately, to feel doomed that I was trapped in this cycle of underperformance.

If this sounds familiar, you might find comfort in the fact that it‘s humanly impossible to simultaneously complete a report, set up a conference call, and Snapchat friends about how swamped you are at work.

In fact, it's even more counterproductive than you think. Hopefully, these tips backed by science can really help you get your game on again — but this time, one move at a time.

1. We're Not Superhuman

The idea of multitasking is closer to telekinesis. We want to do two or more things at once as much as move objects with our minds. But the reality about both is — we can't. Sorry.

Neuroscience research reveals that rather than actually multitask, our brains simply switch at rapid speeds from task to task. One reason for this is that similar tasks compete to use the same region of the brain. And the problem is, all tasks attempted will suffer as a result.

So think about that while you're talking on the phone with your boss while writing an email to your client. The point is, we're human after all.

2. Even Music Hurts

I know, it sucks to be mortal. Not only do we fail at multitasking, the very attempt to add a new activity to our command centre actually makes us less able than when we perform tasks separately. Research shows that this process of switching from task to task comes at a price.

Think about listening to music while reading your cost-benefit analysis. Researchers suggest that even when we indulge in these seemingly innocent joys, doing so compromises your brain's potential.

The result? We feel that we're absorbing information because music prompts the release of "happy chemicals". So maybe disable the Spotify when the key report is due.

3. Lethal Mistakes

When we multitask, we are less efficient, our brains expend more energy, and we are prone to making more mistakes. That's why texting and driving is so dangerous — and it's why we miss those grammatical errors or miscalculations that reflect badly on us.

In school, many of us still managed to get by with the help of angelic professors and lenient deadline penalties. But this habit of multitasking, when repeated at work, could paint a more unforgiving picture in our performance reviews. More than a myth, multitasking really just creates a no-win situation.

4. Plan Your Day

Don't despair: there is hope. You don't need to give up your favourite distractions to find your way around this lack of time and general "busy-ness".

Try doing this: prioritise your daily tasks into three categories. The "must-do", the "should-do", and the "would-like-to-do”. Tell yourself that only when you have completed every task on your "must-do" list, can you allow "distractions" from the other categories.

And yeah, in case you wondered, Instagram, Pokemon and Snapchat all come under the latter most category. Or maybe just the "after-work" group.

5. Extend the Lessons

It's not always easy to concentrate on one task. And where papers are piling up and time is ticking away, stress will always put us on edge. But instead of reaching out for your smartphone or finding your next holiday destination, try stepping away from the desk or taking a walk for a few minutes. Research suggests that simply changing your physical stance or vantage point can make a huge difference to your emotional state.

6. Rock On

If you do want to listen to music, try it for about 10 to 15 minutes before you start on the task at hand, not while you're at it.

Your favourite playlists and festival beats can elevate your mood — and make it easier to focus on the task you aim to prioritise. Then you'll have that beat-driven momentum to tick off all your goals, one task at a time.

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