We’ve all heard the buzzwords: productivity, time management, organized thinking. They’re often thrown around without instruction or direction, and if you feel like your productivity potential is always just a little bit out of reach, you’re definitely not alone. Between smartphones, social media, and hustle culture, we are living in a modern world filled to the brim with distractions, and it is only too easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted at the end of the day without having actually ticked anything off your to-do list. The next thing you know, you’re feeling guilty for not meeting your own productivity goals, deadlines loom to distract you further, and the whole rotten cycle continues.
The good news is that there is a productivity hack sweeping social media that may just be the answer we’ve all been looking for. If you’ve seen “monotasking” pop up on your TikTok feed and want to know what it’s all about or if you’re just feeling overwhelmed with a workload of which you can’t seem to scratch the surface, this article is for you!
What is monotasking?
Monotasking is simply the idea of focusing on one task at a time. This may sound pretty obvious or straightforward, but in the modern world of multitasking and always being pulled in a million different directions, monotasking can often feel a lot easier said than done. Many of us have been taught to focus across a variety of fields or jobs from a very young age, so deciding to turn our brains to a singular task at hand can be a difficult skill to master. Monotasking requires you to turn off distractions (yes, even your phone) and focus on one project until either a milestone is reached or a certain amount of time has elapsed.
Why does monotasking work?
When you multitask, you are not actually able to fully focus on any one thing but instead rapidly cycle between a variety of activities. Research shows that this lack of mental commitment and the mental blocks created by task-shifting can result in drastic decreases in productivity—even as much as 40% less than if you focused on a single task. Multitasking also increases your likelihood of making mistakes and forgetting things (we’ve all accidentally sent an email to the wrong person because we were doing too many things at once!).
The goal of monotasking is to reach a “flow state” where you can truly focus on what you’re doing without distraction. By removing external distractions like phone notifications and coworker interruptions, you can train yourself to concentrate solely on the task at hand and eliminate productivity breaks that naturally occur when you’re constantly shifting your focus between projects.
You’ve convinced me! How do I get started?
A big part of effective monotasking is planning. What single task are you going to focus on? Do you have a set goal to accomplish, or are you working on a longer timeframe and just putting in the hours? Will you monotask alone or with a group to hold you accountable?
Once you’ve decided what task you’re going to attack and the parameters of your productivity goals, you need to set aside a good chunk of time to dedicate to monotasking. Your session should be at least one hour, as this will allow your brain to fully immerse in the task rather than just skim the surface of concentration with the typical 10-to-20-minute bursts of focus.
Here are some tips to set up a monotasking session for yourself:
- Decide on the one project or task that you’ll be working on for the session as well as what you’re hoping to achieve. There may be a specific milestone you are hoping to hit or maybe you just want to make progress over the allotted time.
- Choose a time where you can work for at least one hour uninterrupted, and schedule that time onto any shared calendars you use.
- Minimize any distractions. Turn off your phone, email, and social media notifications, and let your coworkers and friends know that you’re going offline for that time.
- Set your workspace up with everything you will need for the session so that you don’t have to get up throughout. Grab a glass of water, your charging cables, noise-canceling headphones, a coffee, or a jacket in case you get cold. Don’t give yourself any excuse to go wandering during your monotasking time.
- Set a timer for yourself. Try to find a manual timer without a big glowing countdown to let yourself get truly immersed in the session.
What if I don’t want to monotask alone?
It may seem like it could be a distraction, but a great way to ensure that you stay focused during a monotasking session is by doing it with friends. The accountability of being in a group, even a virtual one, can be a really effective way of staying on task, especially when you’re new to monotasking. Get some friends or colleagues together, set a time, then work in silence for the allotted session. If you’re worried that monotasking with your friends could just end up being a social occasion and you’d rather work with a group of people that you don’t know, you may be interested in Spacetime Monotasking. This community is a virtual coworking space facilitating remote monotasking sessions. Users choose a time that suits them, sign on, introduce themselves and the projects they’ll be working on, and then silently work together on Zoom. Spacetime Monotasking offers two different session lengths: sprints that last one hour and flows that run for two hours.