Do More With Less Stress By Mono-tasking Not Multi-tasking

SUMMARY POINTS

> Multi-tasking doesn’t mean you achieve more
> Doing a little of several things all at once means nothing gets done
> Concentrating on one task at a time is more productive
> Try simple ways to mono-task and feel less stressed

In the grown-up world of work, work, work, grind, grind, grind, keeping all our life tasks up in the air is essential.

It’s essential but it’s exhausting.

Our alarm goes off way too early and it’s time to get up. Instead of jumping out of bed and yanking back the curtains to a glorious day of achievement, a sense of dread creeps over our souls.

Before our eyes are properly open, we have a list of tasks so long it pumps adrenaline through our limbs and makes our head pound. The stress of it all makes us want to call in sick and just sulk on the sofa all day.

We know what we've got to do - get juggling.

Although multitasking requires more brain power than is humanly possible, it feels like we've got all the plates spinning. It makes us feel like we're in control.

We’re not in control though, because work is getting away from us and home life is all over the place. Me time? Forget it.

But there’s another more efficient way to work and its name is "mono-tasking."

Mono-tasking means taking one task at a time. Slow and steady wins the race - well, steady does.

But, you ask , "How can I mono-task when there’s SO MUCH TO DO! And besides, I’m good at multi-tasking."

Are you?

Really?

Take this 1-minute test and find out for sure. We failed miserably at it.

VIDEO: Can You Get Through This Multi-Tasking Test?
YOUTUBE: BuzzFeedVideo
Length: 1:18

​Summary points:
> Trying to multi-task means you miss lots of detail
> Very few people can actually do this challenge well
> Baked trout for lunch is pretty good - but we can’t stand microwave fish stink.

We hope you aren’t feeling overwhelmed by the idea that the only thing keeping your life ticking over is in fact bullshit.

We’ll show you how to take baby steps to a mono-tasking, more organized and productive work life.

We won’t say it’s totally stress-free because life is stressful, but we will say it’ll take some crushing pressure off and you’ll feel that sense of achievement you’re aiming for.

Here's The Science

We’re not making this shit up.

Mono-tasking is proven to work a helluva lot more than mythical multi-tasking. Multi-tasking tires our brain. Just like how constantly checking Facebook and eBay depletes our phone battery, multitasking slows us down.

Because we’re not actually winning two tasks at the same time. What we’re doing is quickly shifting attention from one task to the other with lightning fast speed. 

It's no wonder that we’re constantly exhausted.

What we’re all actually doing is this thing called "switch-tasking."

Switch-tasking is a vain attempt to do multiple tasks at one time without achieving much.

or

Background tasking. 

This means we're doing something so simple that we don’t have to think about it - an example is listening to music on the treadmill.

Background tasking is okay because we don’t have to spend energy switching our brain from one task to the other because the motor skills don’t overlap.

Why is switch-tasking bad?

Because we're taking longer and making mistakes in both tasks.

Switch-tasking, or multitasking if you prefer the term, is part of the executive control process.

Our prefrontal cortex, which allows us to concentrate, has to switch between rules and goals because our brains can’t do two things at once. This causes a tiny brain power delay.

If we're unfamiliar with the tasks and rules then delays just stretch even further - like learning how to play Mahjong - yeah, that’ll take forever to figure out.

And, we don’t want to panic you, but in this study, researchers think folks who multi-task a lot may have less grey matter in their brain than mono-taskers. Multi-tasking may be dumbing us down - DOH!

Researchers also think that up to 40% of our productivity is lost when we multi-task because it takes more time and we keep making mistakes ranging from a small tyop typo to monumental fuck-ups.

Psychologists call this loss of productivity ‘switching cost’.

A good example of switching cost is the all too familiar email checking. Guilty? Of course you are! So are we.

It’s thought that our brain takes about a minute to get back into a task after we've quickly checked our email for the tenth time in 15 minutes.

And why are we checking email instead of concentrating on the job in hand?

One word: Dopamine.

Dopamine Hits Are So, So Good

Checking our email and quickly blasting out a reply gives us a sense of achievement and a lovely soothing hit of the happy hormone dopamine.

It’s part of our brain’s reward system. Kids get a chocolate bar for doing well, but we get dopamine. It’s the mental equivalent of a large glass of velvety red wine or a tall frothy cold pint of beer.

The problem is we get addicted - you probably already are addicted - so you’ll check your email again in five minutes time. BOOM more dopamine, sweet!

But the tasks we're trying to finish, the ones that made us clench our teeth and crank up a bad temper, aren’t getting any further ahead - and that means another round of anguish to deal with.

So, what do we all do instead? We check our inbox yet again for those dopamine laced quick replies.

It’s a false accomplishment people.

This great little 5 minute video from SciShow explains it well.

VIDEO: Can You Really Multitask?
YOUTUBE: SciShow Psych
LENGTH: 4:39

​Summary points:
> Our brains can’t actually multi-task
> Trying to multi-task means we make mistakes
> Dopamine tricks us into feeling good about multi-tasking

Okay...so that’s enough of what doesn’t work.

With multi-tasking out the window, here’s what we can do to mono-task effectively.

We know mono-tasking sounds like laziness, impossibility, and a luxury you can’t afford, but it works and you can do it.

By the way, we’re not saying you can’t multi-task on small jobs or do background tasking, but when it comes to the important tasks that need concentration, mono-tasking is the only way to go.

Here’s how.

Tips To Help You Mono-Task For Less Stress

1. Start The Day With A Mono-Task

Your first mono-task of the day, other than to gulp down some life-saving coffee, is making a list of what you need to achieve and putting it in priority order.

Yes, you do have time for this. It’s important because it focuses your attention on what you can achieve in one day - today.

You won’t get everything on that list done, but you WILL get some done as opposed to getting a tiny bit of each one done with mistakes. That means you get to cross things off - results! How satisfying.

Maybe your list could look something like this:

- Scan and prioritize outstanding emails
- Draft up the minutes from yesterday’s meeting
- Finish the excel worksheet analysis
- Lunchtime meditation walk and browse Facebook
- Complete monthly management report
- Reply to urgent and important emails

When you plan ahead like this, it forces mono-tasking and you have a clear step-by-step schedule.

Don’t think all is lost if your list is interrupted by a phone call from the boss demanding something unreasonable. Just get back on track and re-prioritize.

The list will clear your mind and you can stop juggling for a bit. Rest those upper arms.

2. Work In Blocks

Working in blocks allows you to think clearly about the task at hand because after that block of time, you’ll be onto the next task - so quit worrying about it now.

Using blocks of time ensures you complete a task with your full attention.

Commit a 20-minute block of time to a single activity, task or project. Set an alarm so you can concentrate - clock watching is multi-tasking! If you want another 20 minutes after that feel free.

Don’t switch tasks.

If something pops into your head make a note on a post-it or in your notebook and then carry on with your current task. This will get that nagging item outta your head so you can return your focus to what’s at hand.

This 20-minute block of focused work takes practice. So, don’t beat yourself up if you can only manage five or ten minutes. Keep at it, it’ll come easily over time.

Experiment with the lengths of time. Over the span of about a week or two, you’ll find your ideal duration for small tasks and large projects.

3. Schedule Email

Besides social media, emails are one of the biggest time wasters around - they really eat into your productive time.

You need an email schedule.

If possible, block out a specific part of your day to scanning, prioritizing and replying to emails. This could be the hour leading up to lunch or maybe in the mid-afternoon from 2pm - 3pm.

Also, don’t feel pressured to have a notification in the corner of your screen and/or on your smartphone, it's a major distraction. Turn it off or disable it if you can.

Check your email two to three times a day instead of every five minutes and you’ll feel the pressure valve release.

Text messages are another enemy that ruins your mono-tasking time. Put your phone in a drawer. You know it makes sense.

How great does it feel to get that task done? A productive achievement - yeah, it feels pretty good.

4. Organize Your Workspace

Online distractions are not the only things that stop us from finishing our work.

Our brains are always looking for something new and exciting. When your financial spreadsheet has you teetering on the edge of a coma, or you're so vegetablized that you can’t even work a pencil, you’ll look for any distraction or excuse to not work on it.

“Hmmm, where did that Post-It note go?”

“I should tidy up my desk drawer.”

We can’t blame you. It happens to us all the time. You do need to minimize these distractions though.

Clean-n-clear your desk of junk and you won’t be tempted to rummage through your mess just for the sake of it. 

5. Choose Your Time Wisely

If you have a difficult task ahead, choose a good time of day to accomplish it.

Maybe, you’re best first thing in the morning before anyone else gets to the office. Or, maybe in the mid-afternoon. It’s different for everyone but you know when your golden hours are.

​We’re pretty certain it isn’t 30 minutes before the end of the day, so keep that time clear for small ‘no effort required’ tasks or your end-of-day wind-down rituals.

Use your golden hours to your mono-tasking advantage. This is the time where you’ll most likely be able to “get in the zone” with work. It’s called “flow state” and it’s awesome.

Use every ounce of brain power to get that task finished because we all know you’re on fire then. Talk about peak performance!

6. Disconnect From Work

Wait, what? This is about mono-tasking, right?

Well, yes it is. But we all mentally multi-task outside of work too.

You’ve picked up the kids and now they are fighting with each other in the backseat over where Venom lives for real.

But you’re still thinking about work. It’s called “attention residue” and it really just means that instead of focusing on the little precious time you have with your friends and family, you're stuck mentally in the office.

This is mental multi-tasking. You have a bunch of browser tabs open in your brain instead of one.

To clear your mind, you need free time, time to think about nothing, to zone-out for a bit.

It’s hard when you’re bombarded at work and have so much to do but a meditation, a walk, or a chat with friends can help clear away that nasty work residue and allow you to have quality time in the evenings.

For more info on how to disconnect from work, check out this article here.

A great side effect of ‘brain-clearing’ is that your neurons get a rest and you’ll come back twice as fast tomorrow. Think of it as a mini-break. God knows we all need a weekend getaway.

7. Mindfulness

Give your brain a rest.

This isn’t hippy-dippy bullshit. Mindfulness works and it can help you learn to mono-task too.

Mindfulness is concentrating on just ‘being’ for a moment. Close your eyes and concentrate on breathing, sip your tea, really taste it and don’t let your mind wander.

If you struggle to clear your mind, and deep breathing doesn’t do the trick, whip out an adult coloring book. No, it's not "adult" in that sense - more like "grown up." It’s just a coloring book with more detailed patterns and shapes. ​

Art therapy gives our brains and hearts a chance to calm down and rid itself of harmful stress.

You can download a coloring book and read more about it
here.

Once you’re calm start a mono-task.

The Results Speak For Themselves

You may not believe us right now, but just try some mono-tasking and see how you feel.

We bet that once you discover that mono-tasking brings a whitewash of productive calm, you’ll become addicted to it instead of the fake-news multi-tasking dopamine hits.

Say goodbye to the hair-pulling, stomach-churning stressaholic monster. And say hello to the organized intergalactic emperor of the office.

Once you get the hang of mono-tasking, you’ll jump out of bed and start prancing to work like this guy.

VIDEO: Deer Goes for a Morning Skip Across a Beach
YOUTUBE: Storyful News
LENGTH: 00:12

Okay, that’s enough from us. We've gotta go mono-task some coffee-making now.

You go have a wonderful day.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]