The Big Idea
Practicing monotasking incorporates mindfulness into all areas of your life.
Questions I Answer
- What productivity strategy will actually make me more productive?
- How can I be a better multitasker?
- Does multitasking help my productivity?
- How are productivity and mindfulness connected?
Actions to Take
- Try monotasking in little ways like not having your phone out at meals.
- When you get the urge to switch tasks take a deep breath instead and refocus on the task at hand.
Key Topics in the Show
Why we should focus on being effective, not efficient.
How working on one task at a time is actually faster than multitasking.
Why monotasking will help build solid relationships with others.
How monotasking is a practice of mindfulness and can contribute to daily happiness.
Learn the 5 Keys to Monotasking.
Resources and Links
- Listen to Episode 009: Why Multitasking is Killing Your Productivity to learn more about multitasking
- Tips to Help You Be Better at Multitasking:
- Turn off or turn down technology: try not to be a slave to your inbox, set a timer for checking email, have only one program open, have a limit on internet tabs, change or turn off notifications.
- Set up a prioritized to-do list and schedule time to tackle it: use the priority system in episode 6, this helps you focus in and get rid of overwhelming tasks, power hour, batched tasks.
- Stop the physical distractions: people pushing their own agenda on you (priority 3), train co-workers to use your literal inbox on your desk for notes, use apps like slack, trello, asana or voxer. Make your do-not-disturb mode clear.
- Organize your workspace: clear items that are distracting so you can find things faster, keep a notepad at hand.
- Control your own distractions: block the distracting websites, don’t accept every meeting invite.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is episode ten. Today, we are going to be talking about a productivity strategy called mono-tasking. If you were with me last week for episode nine, you know that we talked about multitasking and how it’s actually killing our productivity. Many of us feel like multitasking is the way to go because we’re getting more done, but we found through all of our statistics and studies and all that research that the opposite was true. I’m goin to really quickly just review what we discussed last week just to remind you and then we’ll talk about what the solution is going to be.
First of all, background tasking and multitasking are two different things. Background tasking is probably what you’re doing right now, listening to this podcast while you’re working out or driving in the car. It uses two different sections of your brain at the same time, and that works really well with the way your brain works. Multitasking is actually switch tasking. It’s working in the same section of the brain with two or more tasks or projects. Maybe you’re working on the computer and chatting on the phone. Your brain is not able to do both of those as effectively as possible. I know I gave you a lot of numbers, a lot of case studies and I’m going to give you one more just now just in case you need a little more convincing.
Michigan State ran a study where they tested the students ability to persevere through interruptions while taking a computerized test. These interruptions came in the form of pop ups that required the students to enter a code each time. In one case, the interruptions lasted a little more than four seconds, and in the other it was about 2.8 seconds. Now, here’s what’s interesting. With the 2.8 second interruption, the students made double the errors when they returned to the test. With the 4.4 second interruption, that error rate quadrupled. Obviously, when you’re having these interruptions it’s really hard to get back to that task at hand and to do it well. I’m not going to throw out a bunch more case studies for you because I feel like we really hammered that last week in episode nine. We’re really goin to be focusing today on the solution, which I believe is mono-tasking, or you could call it single tasking because what it is is dedicating yourself to doing one thing at a time.
I really encourage you to do this for yourself, even if it’s just for a few days to give it a try. Especially if you think you are a good multitasker because studies actually show the people who think they’re really good at multitasking are actually much worse at it than the people who consider themselves bad. That’s probably just because they’re not seeing the difference between effective work and efficient work. In reality only 2% of people are really able to control a multitasking environment. Those people are called super taskers. Here’s the thing though. Studies show that these super taskers don’t actually outperform other people. They just don’t feel as stressed. Their brains react differently and they don’t feel the stress under the pressure. They’re still not doing a better job, they’re just a little calmer while they’re doing it. To me, the key to productivity is to work effectively, not necessarily efficiently.
When we focus on efficiency, we’re not really doing our best work because we’re really focused on the time that it’s taking. That feels like two tasks at one time
is faster, even though we now know that it’s not. When we focus on effectiveness, we’re really focused on quality and when you focus on the quality of your work, you’re actually using your time better because you’re going to be more creative, you’re going to be able to push your boundaries a little bit further, and you’re not going to have to go back and correct as many errors, which adds into your time. Humans have a finite neural resources that are depleted every time we switch between tasks. This is especially true when we’re working online, which is where most of us end up spending a lot of our time. I know that’s where I spend the majority of my day is being online on my computer. A lot of us feel really tired at the end of the because we’re, quite frankly, using up those resources.
have you ever gone home at the end of the day and you feel literally brain dead? Some sure signs that you’ve felt that way is if you’re mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest late at night, or you’re stuffing your brain full of social media because you just can’t seem to manage to do anything else, but your brain is feeling the need for you to do a task. For me, I was finding that I was mindlessly glancing at my cell phone. Sometimes, and this is what’s weird, I wasn’t even turning it on. It was just the act of picking it up and looking at it. It was like my brain was saying, “I need another task.” I would do it, check, did that, oh, I got to do it again, I got to do it again. I really had to focus to try to get rid of that because I was feeling so much brain burnout myself. You’ll find when you’re mono-tasking, it can actually make most of your tasks more enjoyable. Almost any experience is going to be improved by paying full attention to it.
Attention is one of those ways your brain decides is this interesting? Is it worthwhile? Is this fun? You’re not going to feel that way if you’re constantly on your phone or switching tasks. That’s the reason why certain TV shows feel a little bit tiresome to us because we’re spending our time watching it and scrolling through social media throughout. We’re not really giving it the attention. Same with the books that we pick up and put down and pick up again. Those never seem to end and they’re never quite as enjoyable. The more we allow ourselves to be distracted, the more we feel the need to check off this imaginary task list. Remember those tiny addictive doses of dopamine that we talked about that we get for completing these mini tasks? This is what’s feeding that.
I read this article that I thought was really interesting by L.V. Anderson, who’s an editor at Slate magazine. She ran an unofficial experiment. She tried mono-tasking and she recorded her feelings for all of her activities. Then she purposely went back to multitasking. When she did go back to multitasking, she found that she didn’t enjoy those activities nearly as much as when she was mono-tasking. She found that she was doing things like writing emails and participating in online conversations, and doing research while she was watching a sports event on TV. When she was doing that, she wasn’t actually enjoying the tension or the buildup of the game. Trying to pay attention to multiple things made her feel frazzled. She felt pulled in all different directions and stressed out versus how she felt wheen she was mono tasking where she said she felt much calmer and able to enjoy each of those same activities at a much higher level. You can see, it’s really important to try to practice this mono-tasking because it’s going to make a difference in your daily life, not just in
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what you’re doing for work or your volunteering or in your schoolwork, it’s going to make a difference in your daily life.
I really want you to be encourage to try the act of mono-tasking and think of it in a different way. Think of mono-tasking as mindfulness. Now, if you listened to episode five when we talked about our family mission statements, you know that mindfulness is one of the key values in my own family’s mission statement. I really encourage you to practice mindfulness in so many different small ways because that’s a way to mono-task. We’re just going to baby step it into this. Maybe you choose one thing each day to focus on solely. The more that you learn and the more that you practice to let go of distractions, even in the small tasks, the more you’re going to be strengthening up that skill of creating laser focus in your other tasks. Try it out on a couple of really easy places. For example, brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, feeding the dog, maybe eating lunch. When you do those things, try to notice everything you can about the activity, thinking about all five of your senses. When you’re eating lunch, think about the noise of the people around you. Think about the taste of the food in your mouth. Think about the weather outside the window, and so on.
You can already start to see that when you start to really appreciate what’s going on around you, this focus is going to help make your lunch more enjoyable. That’s how it’s going to work in all the different areas of your life. When your mind
begins to wander, acknowledge it, and calmly without judgement bring your attention back to the task at hand. You’re going to need to give yourself a little bit of grace because we’ve conditioned our brain and we’ve trained it to want to wander and go to multiple places. It’s going to be like hitting the gym, right? Where, if you haven’t been in awhile, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a lot more difficult than when you’re going on a regular basis. This is the same thing. It may feel tedious at first, but after awhile you’ll start to get into a zone and you’ll strengthen up your mono-tasking skills. You’ll begin to feel so much less rushed when you’re doing the tasks at hand.
We’re a little bit desensitized to the loudness in our minds. We tend not to realize just how loud it is until we’ve turned it off. When you do manage to mono task, you can feel a calmness and a quiet begin to wash over you. It’s exactly the opposite of that feeling of being stretched too thin and stressed out when you’re
multitasking. A good place to practice besides just these little easy things like brushing your teeth or eating your lunch is to practice listening to people. Put down anything that’s in your hand and turn your attention to the person who’s talking. Literally, look at them, listen to them, and turn your body towards them. As a matter of fact, if you want to see immediate benefits of mono-tasking, this is where to start because this is what’s going to make a change in your relationships.
Mono-tasking with your significant other is a great way to practice. Many of us find that we’re really comfortable with our partners. That doesn’t necessarily mean though that they don’t deserve our attention. Cell phones and distractions they bring can actually damage romantic relationships. I read this really interesting study from Baylor University researchers who surveyed 500 adults in committed relationships. The results showed that 46% reported feeling phone snubbed by their partner. Now,
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hold on. Before I get to the rest of that, I love that term; phone snubbed. I think we all know what that feels like,. When you’re talking to someone and then they lance at their phone in middle of your sentence and you think, “Really? Did you just check your phone instead of listening to what I’m saying?” I think that’s a really accurate term; phone snubbed.
We want to make sure that we’re not doing that to others, and especially not to our partner. Here’s the other part of this study. It showed that 23% said it caused an issue that led to lower satisfaction in that relationship. Then in that domino effect, they also ended up reporting lower life satisfaction and ultimately, greater levels of depression. This study really highlights how an attachment to our devices and how attachment to multitasking can really affect the major parts of our lives, like our relationships and our well being. We really want to try to put the phone away when we’re spending time with people and turn off our notifications. That’s a really, really easy way and a healthy way to practice our mono-tasking skills.
Practicing your mono-tasking skills is going to really incorporate mindfulness into all areas of your life. Those are all really good practice techniques. Let’s talk about actually utilizing mono-tasking in your every day work life. We’re going to create a plan, and I’m going to go ahead and tell you right now, it’s not going to be easy at first. We’re breaking a big habit on our brain because our brain is already addicted and it wants to multitask. If you’re a big multitasker, it’s going to feel counter intuitive. It’s going to feel like you are working so slowly. That first day is going to be the hardest. We live in a world where we’re conditioned to multitask. We’re going to have to be really mindful of our actions when we’re switching to mono-tasking. You’re going to have to consciously and deliberately tell yourself to focus on one task and finish it before you move onto something else, or before you check your phone, or Facebook. The key is to keep going. I’ve gathered together five key mono-tasking tips and I’m going to list these in the show notes so you can find those at inkwellpress.com/podcast and then click on episode ten. I’m going to review them with you here, but I’ll go more in depth in the show notes.
Tip number one. Turn off, or turn down technology. We all feel like slaves to our inbox. I know for me, when I have it so that my computer pops up with a new email, it’s like a shiny object and I want to click on it, even if I know it’s trash. Let’s try not to be a slave to our inbox. Try setting a timer for when you’re going to check your email next. If your mind has already been trained that you check for emails every 20 minutes, it’s going to automatically interrupt your current train of thought and ask you to check it. You’re going to have to fight that and you’re going to do that through setting a timer because you know you’re not going to check it until that timer goes off. Something else you can do to minimize your technology is to only have one program open on your computer at a time. That’s going to help ease temptation. Challenge yourself perhaps to only keep one internet browser tab open at a time.
There’s even browser extensions, like Xtab, that will close the tabs once you reach a certain limit. You can set a limit for how many tabs you have open and it will go ahead and close those for you automatically based off of your settings. Speaking of notifications, you can change notifications so they’re turned off or set it so that
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your email all comes through at the same time. That way you’re not tempted to check your email because you know nothing new is coming into your inbox until a certain time. Put your phone or your computer on do not disturb so that you cannot be interrupted. Here’s a quick little tip. Go ahead and make sure if you have kids to put your children’s school into your favorites section. That way if you do put it in do not disturb, that phone call can come through because I know for me, I don’t like to turn my phone all the way because I want to make sure if there is an emergency my kids’ school can get ahold of me. Those are all really good techniques for turning off or minimizing some of that technology interruptions.
Tip two. Set up a prioritized to do list and schedule time in your day to tackle it. We talked a lot about this back in episode six, about using a priority system. You can go back and listen to that episode if you’d like because that is a system that I think works really well. It allows you to focus in on the important task for each day. What that allows you to do is it helps you to focus in and it gets rid of the overwhelm because overwhelm is what contributes to the urge to multitask. As you know, I believe the definition of overwhelm is not having too much too do, it’s not knowing where to start. I use that task list and then I set aside blocks of time that I call power hour to tackle these items. If I have multiple tasks, I might batch them together if they’re similar, and do them all together at one time. Set up a prioritized to do list and schedule in time.
Tip three. Stop the physical distractions, and I know of those of you who work in an office space, this is a big one because people come by your office and they want to visit or they have questions. They’re pushing their own agenda onto you. For those of you familiar with our priority levels, that’s a priority three for the most part. Have a physical inbox for people who pop into your office. Maybe a tray or a basket that’s clearly marked where people can drop off requests or approvals and this is going to take some training. Each time they come in, just redirect them kindly, “Put it in my inbox.” And eventually, they’ll just do that. I also encourage you to use collaboration tools, like Asana or Trello, to limit the in person interruptions and the questions. You can use programs like Slack or Voxer to communicate even if you’re in the same office because then you can wait and read those communications all at the same time. One of the big thins you can do if you’re in an office is telegraph your intentions to others. Wear headphones, make a do not disturb sign, or close your door. Make it clear that you’re in do not disturb mode and hopefully people will respect that and when they don’t, kindly redirect them and tell them you’re in do not disturb time. Eventually, they’ll start to get the message.
Tip four. Organize your workspace. Space that is clear of clutter really helps you to focus because when you’re working on your TPS reports and you see a visa bill peaking out from behind, it makes you start thinking about your spending and
your budget and things like that. Make sure that you have everything put away where it belongs. That also will allow you to find things fast when others need it, thereby helping with those physical distractions that we just talked about because you can quickly hand over anything somebody needs who comes by. Try keeping a notepad at hand. You’ll inevitably have ideas or thoughts that pop into your brain as you’re working on a task. Instead of focusing on them, write them down quickly on
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your notepad and then look at that notepad later. Have a section of your day where that’s one the things you do.
The fifth tip is to control your own distractions. Block the distracting websites. If you have a hard time not getting on Ebay or Etsy, get rid of the temptations. It’s kind of like cookies in my pantry. I just don’t keep them in there because I know when they’re there I’m probably going to snack on them. You can use a different browser extensions like Stay Focused, which is a free Google Chrome extension that will block a website for a certain amount of time, certain days of the week, or however you want to set that up. Then don’t accept every meeting invitation you get. If you’re familiar with our priority matrix, you know this falls a lot of times under priority three, unimportant and urgent. Choose maybe, and then follow up with some pointed questions to see if it’s really a meeting you need to attend. Meetings do include phone calls. I know that when my phone rings if I’m in the middle of an important task, I don’t even look. I don’t even check the caller id because I have a special ring for my kids’ school and I have a special ring for my husband so I know if it’s somebody on that list that I do need to stop what I’m doing.
When you get the urge to stop what you’re doing and redirect yourself, I want to encourage you to take a deep breath and refocus so you can get back to the task at hand. All of these ideas and the tips and tricks are listed in my show notes, which you can find, again, at inkwellpress.com/podcast under episode ten. Now, I know in our modern lives, it’s not totally possible to never multitask, but you can be much more mindful of the distractions you choose to partake in because you’re going to find a lot more happiness when you’re mono-tasking. The bonus is you’re going to be a lot more productive. Now, next time, in our next episode, we will be talking about technology and productivity, how they can work hand in hand, and how sometimes technology can work against you. I really look forward to talking to you about that. In the meantime, if you’d like to connect with me, you can find me at inkwellpress.com or look for me on social media using the user name @inkwellpress on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can find me all those places and I’d love to have conversations with you there. All right. Until next time. Happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton is a top female keynote speaker, productivity expert and author. She helps women with time management, goals, habits and delegation.