The Art of Monotasking vs. Multitasking

Monotasking isn't just efficient, it's a mental health exercise.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #517
image of a man focused and being mindful of a single task

Your Nemesis: Free Time

When you’re being mindful, your nemesis is, paradoxically, free time. Projects have delays. Sometimes you have to wait for someone else to provide input, or for something external to happen. It’s during these gaps that you’ll be most tempted to start working on a different project. After all, you have all this free time, right?

Wrong! If you switch from twaddling to mushing because you’re waiting for your turnip twaddler to be done in the dishwasher, then when the dishes are done, you’re deep into tomato mushing. You’ll probably stall your twaddling until your mushing reaches a natural pause. At which time you have to wash off all the tomatoes and then dive back into turnips.

Pauses Allow Reflection

When your top-priority project has a pause, stop. Don’t jump into something else. Instead, just take time to be present with the project that’s paused. How’s it really going? Are you on schedule? Is it meeting the need it’s supposed to fill? 

These gaps are where you’ll be creative. You’ll daydream. You’ll connect disparate ideas and come up with flashes of insight. You’ll spend some time being instead of doing. But only if you let yourself.

After sitting with the project for a bit, it’s OK to consider working on your #2 project to fill the time. And when your top priority project resumes, immediately stop the filler project and return to your top priority. 

Be Mindful Amidst the Chaos

This is mindfulness, in the heart of monotasking. Be there with one thing. Be calm. Be reflective. When you put your focus on one thing and one thing only, you’ll do a better job. You’ll have more control over your emotions and mental state. You’ll get more done, sooner. 

In mindfulness, you return your attention to your breath when your mind wanders.

In monotasking, you return your attention to your top priority when you start multitasking, even if it’s just to think or mull over your top priority. 

Grab a timer and set it to go off every 15 minutes. When it goes off, if you’re not working on your top priority, stop, and return your attention to your top priority. Daydream or think, if necessary. Over time, you’ll find you get done everything that’s most important. You’ll get things done sooner, and overall, everything will still get done on the same timeframe. Only you’ll be peaceful, much more in the flow, and grateful. Why grateful? Because at the end of it all, you could be brushing your teeth in a desert, with a blue Mohawk, on a 110-degree day. Instead, you’re enjoying central air.

I’m Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. If you have projects that are stalled or taking too long, check out my “Get-it-Done Groups” accountability groups. Learn more at http://SteverRobbins.com.  Image of a focused man © Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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