Always Busy? Monotasking Is The Life Hack That’ll Get You In Order ASAP

We're a world of multitaskers, but are we getting anything done? Rosemary Mac Cabe investigates.

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What are you doing right now? Chances are, you’re flicking through your favourite magazine (ahem) while waiting for the kettle to boil, checking your emails and painting your nails. If you’re a telly addict, you’re watching while scrolling through your phone and emptying your handbag.

At any given moment, we can be absorbed in up to five different tasks – and, what’s more, we think it’s completely, utterly necessary. With so much to get done in any 18-hour period (and that’s only taking six hours’ sleep, when ideally we should be getting eight), we simply must do several things at once, or else that to-do list will never get done. Right?

Well, er, wrong. According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, multitasking is a myth – or, at least, it’s a non-productive use of our time. Sure, we can do several things at once, and do them quickly, but the jury is most certainly out on whether we can focus properly on any one of them.

What’s more, as we add item after item to our to-do list and begin doling out our attention between each one, we’re more susceptible to errors. So what we think is a surefire way to impress the boss – taking on more tasks and working on them all simultaneously – is, in fact, a recipe for disaster.

But what’s the alternative? When you have a mounting pile of tasks to complete, and only a certain number of hours in the day… what is there to do, other than multitask?

The answer is pretty straightforward – unitasking, also known as the long-forgotten art of concentrating on just one thing at a time. If you think it sounds too simple to be effective, think again; by focusing your concentration and honing in on one task at a time, you can get more done in a shorter time and, crucially, work more efficiently.

Get started

The key to any good unitasking session is in prioritising. Write a list of what needs to get done and then number the tasks in order of urgency – only then can you really get down to it.

But remember: this is a whole new method of getting shit done, and the old way won’t cut it. So that means getting rid of all of the distractions that we usually put in the multitasking category – things that, let’s face it, are usually entirely unrelated to the task at hand (or any high-priority task on our list).

We recommend shutting down your social media tabs, turning your phone on airplane mode – and putting it in another room, in a locked box – and closing down your email. Unless, of course, the task at hand is checking and clearing your email backlog.

Love your leisure

Set aside a dedicated time to do the things you love, and see how much more enjoyable you’ll find them. Imagine what it would be like to sit down to watch an episode of your favourite show, entirely uninterrupted – or spend an hour reading that book you’ve been dying to sink your teeth into.

It’ll work even better if you set aside a time for necessary, but relatively unproductive, things like social media – knowing you can sit down to scroll through Snapchat at an allocated time will make you less likely to dip in and out while attempting to do something else.

Unitasking may seem daunting, at first (how will you get everything done?) but, once you get into the swing of things, you’ll find that focusing on one task at a time makes the rewards that much sweeter.

Practice makes perfect

Just as we’ve trained our brains to adapt to doing several things at once, we can retrain them to focus on just one – but it’ll take time. Rather than running at full speed into your unitasking life, take baby steps. Remember when we used to have to sit next to the phone – attached to the wall – in order to use it? If you’re taking a call, avoid the temptation to “use” that time to do other things; be present in that conversation, without distractions.

Of course, it’s unlikely that we’re going to change all of our multitasking ways overnight – after all, watching Netflix while ironing is a smart use of time. But when it comes to workplace productivity and one on one time, you might just get more out of doing a little less.

This article first appeared in the April issue of STELLAR. The October issue is on shelves now! 

October 2016 STELLAR magazine cover