monotasking: (noun) 1) the practice of dedicating oneself to a given task and minimizing potential interruptions until the task is completed or a significant period of time has elapsed, 2) a deep mindset that causes you to reexamine your relationship to time - your most precious and fundamental asset.
If you asked the dying what they would exchange for one more year of life you will invariably come across a common theme. There is no amount of money that they wouldn't exchange for more time. The cliche that 'time is money' is misleading. Time is way more valuable than money. On average we have 4,000 weeks of life to live. How are you spending yours? This is how I'm spending mine.
There is a growing trend at home and in the workplace to engage in multitasking--that is doing more than one thing at a time. Multitasking comes in different forms depending on the amount of attention demanded by the activities. There is the relatively non-detrimental form of multitasking in which you are doing an activity that you can do without much thought (i.e. commuting to work) while also engaging in something requiring a little more focus (i.e. listening to a podcast). Then there is the form of multitasking in which you try to take on two high-focus tasks at the same time (i.e. answering emails while also getting interrupted by workplace flow). This requires a large amount of task-switching, which derails your focus and causes your work to take up more time than necessary. How much more time? Usually five to ten times more!
For the sake of this post we will group all multitasking in the same basket when starting out. Listening to a podcast while driving still diminishes your attention to both the podcast and (more importantly) to the other hurling metal death objects around you. Most of the time we multitask out of habit and not out of choice. Often times it is created by the circumstance that you find yourself working in. By bringing more intention to how we structure our attention we can begin to have more control over the quality of our time. Enter the practice of monotasking.
I know many of you have probably already been exposed to this idea. It comes in many forms, such as 'be in the moment' or 'be more present,' but present-mindedness is only part of the equation. In order to monotask, you must adopt a dogged determination to focus on one thing until it is complete, or at least satisfactorily enhanced. This will mean saying 'no' the nagging feeling of missing out on something. It will mean shutting off your radio and simply focusing on driving safely. It will mean removing yourself while you answer emails or work on projects. It will mean leaving your phone in the other room while you play with your kids before bed or leaving your phone at home while you go for a walk. By resolving to focus on one thing at a time, you will actually find yourself enjoying your life more.
Distraction will always have a tendency to creep into your life. We are social creatures and therefore wired to care about what others around us are doing. Furthermore, our brains crave novelty--that hit of dopamine. Media and the internet have evolved with this core tenant in mind. If you are constantly engaged in new things you become hooked. Monotasking is all about breaking free from the lure. Depending on how deep you are into the distraction culture, there will be different degrees of withdrawal. To regain control of your brain may take a week, but more often it takes a month. In the process, it is important to allow yourself intentional periods of distraction. This 'focused distraction' allows you to purposefully engage in this alluring urge. However, you must ensure that it is bound by a time limit. I guarantee that you will negotiate with yourself as you come to the end of that time limit. Just one more post/video/etc. It is quite fascinating. Be firm. Shut off the distractions and get back to monotasking right away as if your life depends on it because it does.
Through my own experience with monotasking, I have discovered many truths. The more engaged I am with one thing, the better I feel. I am able to divide my hours in each week between the activities that are important to me with more ease. I have time set aside to engage with friends and family, time for physical activity, time for house chores and maintenance, time for work, and time for distractions. I am in no way perfect and often slide backward. I know I am sliding when I notice that the last several minutes of my life seemed to have just disappeared without memory because I was distracted. It feels like I have just wasted my time. When I get such a feeling I remember this tool of monotasking.