The Power of Monotasking

Can you imagine having a dentist work on your teeth while he was checking email and watching a movie? Sounds nuts, but this is not much different than how most of us live our lives. Doing several things at once and how is that working for us?

Multi-Tasking The Productivity Killer

I was recently helping a manager in one of my businesses manage his time more effectively. We discussed many strategies to be more productive, but one particularly useful change is counter intuitive and leads to getting more done with less stress.

I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.— Zig Ziglar


I am a big fan of doing one thing at a time. When I am working on something, I switch off email, I don’t check twitter or other social networks and I don’t answer my phone. Every time one switches tasks the brain has to reorient itself so juggling many activities at once consumes more mental resources than devoting all of one’s attention to one thing.

Monotasking is a rule for me and it is backed by science. Studies by the University of Michigan and Kent’s College in London have shown that multi-tasking causes a reduced performance on any one task and even lowered IQ, so I always coach my managers to monotask. Time is limited, so if a task is important enough to spend time on, it is important enough to focus on.

The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. — Bruce Lee

Monotasking is a Stress Reliever

In the west we live complicated lives. Pervasive technology for example, while helping us do more work, has created an avalanche of distractions and information overload. Now we can be out with friends and check our email at the same time, but does this make our lives better?

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. — Mark Twain

We have probably have all had that experience where we are trying to do one thing, but we are distracted by one or more other things. It is not only difficult, but stressful as well.

Studies have shown that driving and texting not only impairs driving performance to dangerous levels, but also significantly heightens driver stress levels as they try to avert disasters with divided attention.

All parents can relate to another great example of stress from multi-tasking, when a child that wants to have a conversation while we are trying to get something done. Kids don’t care that we have things to do. Try as we sometimes might to work and acknowledge our kids at the same time, they pressure us for our attention until the distraction is too stressful and causes us to get frustrated…or we give in and simply offer them our full attention.

The stress of task switching is also easily seen in experienced managers who struggle when they split their time amongst many things.

I coach them out of this bad habit and our conversations often go like this.

Me: Don’t pick up the phone for an unscheduled call.
Them: But what if it is important?
Me: Thats fine. Block time during the day to return calls and return the urgent calls first.
Them: But what if it is real urgent and the caller needs to speak right away.
Me: We are not running an ER, so it is very rare that something can’t wait a couple of hours for the right response.
Our customers appreciate our undivided attention and would rather have your full attention in one or two hours than having your half-attention now.
Them: Really I can do this?
Me: Really you can and our customers will appreciate it.

What follows is usually a calmer, more effective manager that gets more done without the stress of trying to do ten things at once.

Monotasking. Do one thing at a time.

Some other tips for monotasking that i find useful.

– Stick to *Your* Agenda – decide what tasks, goals and activities will get your full attention each day and commit to them. Anything outside of this list is a distraction or someone else’s agenda and not worthy of your attention.
– Minimize Distractions – turn your cellphone off and you are less likely to feel motivated to answer it when it rings. Close the laptop and you are less likely to check email.
– Make Quality Time Sacred – when you are with friends and family leave the email alone. Kids know the importance of this when they tell you they want to talk to you without the iPhone. Be present with your friends and family.
– Create Focus Zones – for example try putting the iPhone away on Sundays, at dinner time, and when putting the kids to bed.
– Multitask During Dead Time – waiting in line at a bank or the grocery store is dead time for most of us and can be used to check email, Facebook etc.

Focus on one thing at a time. It will make your life better. Good luck!

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