Most of us are extremely familiar with the concept of multitasking. Especially in Western culture where productivity and efficiency are so highly valued, multitasking has become a way to check more items off the To-Do List in a short amount of time. In short stints, multitasking can be a way to keep our brains and bodies actively engaged and may help us feel more capable and competent, but some experts have shown that it can actually have negative long-term effects.
One study from Stanford University found that people who multitask are actually less productive, more easily distracted, and perform worse on tests. Another study found that fewer than 3 percent of people are able to multitask effectively. In other words, the practice of multitasking is deceptive; it can temporarily make us feel more productive but we actually get less accomplished in the end.
As an alternative to multitasking, monotasking has become a trendy practice in the business world and among college students. Monotasking, also called single tasking, simply means focusing on a single task for a predetermined amount of time. Proponents of monotasking claim that dedicating attention to one goal at a time can improve both quality and efficiency. Because it takes effort for our brains to switch contexts or subject matter, it actually preserves energy to monotask. In addition, monotasking allows us to complete projects faster, rewarding our brains with dopamine every time we finish a task and thereby motivating us to take on the next challenge.
Many companies and thought leaders incorporate monotasking into their daily schedules in order to maintain peak performance. This is often accomplished through “productivity sprints” which have a specific time limit and a specific goal, and are followed by a break which can include any activity that feels restful and rejuvenating. Some individuals claim sprints of 90-120 minutes lead to the best results, while others work in sprints of 30-45 minutes with shorter breaks in between. The key to a successful productivity sprint is minimizing distractions and putting 100 percent of the focus on the task at hand.
Technology has made monotasking difficult. Our phones and devices are constantly demanding our attention and it is tempting to try to do everything at once. However, constantly multitasking can not only affect our productivity, but it can impact our mental state. Resting is one of the most important aspects of productivity and of mental health. Pushing ourselves too hard or too far mentally can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression as well as a host of physical ailments. This, in turn, can make us feel even less productive, compounding the stress and anxiety in a downward spiral.
Incorporating more monotasking into your life may be an adjustment at first, but it could ultimately lead to a healthier mental state and increased productivity.
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