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Monotasking: Why One Thing At A Time Is Better All The Time

Browse through any online job listings for 15 to 20 minutes and you’re bound to see it. Written in bold under the ‘Essential Skills’ header you’ll find ‘Multitasking’ – the seemingly superhuman ability to do two or more things at once, both efficiently and effectively.

Multitasking: The Myth Demystified

The idea of multitasking started to seep into certain, specialized sectors of the professional world in the mid-1990s. But by the early 2000s, however, the concept had swept through every industry.

New technologies were rapidly redefining the way we worked, and chief among those changes was speed. What might have taken a week to do in 1965 could now be done in 24-36 hours. And unsurprisingly, what could be done quickly became what must be done.

As a result of this dizzying increase in speed and complexity, multitasking became a kind of holy grail among managers and HR personnel. As they themselves struggled to juggle their increased responsibilities, this ‘skill’ was seen as both a must and a rarity. So reasonable, right?

Why the sarcasm? Because here’s a little secret of human psychology: Almost all humans are awful at it.

Doing two or more things at once or doing multiple high-level tasks in a single hour consistently results in both lower quality and slower work. You may feel like you’re getting a lot done, but that’s most likely just an illusion caused by feeling so scattered and hectic.

Remember: Just because you’re racing doesn’t mean you’re taking the best route to the finish line.

‘So how do I get more done with limited hours in the day working from home?’ you ask quizzically.

You microtask.

The Secrets of Microtasking

Micro-tasking is the process of switching one’s attention between different tasks in quick, short succession. Whereas talking on the phone while checking your email would be considered multitasking, stopping halfway through an email to make a short phone call then returning to the email would be considered micro-tasking.

But we often can’t control when we receive urgent emails, phone calls, or visits to our office. So, the ability to address these frequent interruptions and still get our work done proves paramount.

And it starts with prioritizing. Every day …

  • Identify your three most important tasks and focus on those one at a time until they’re done.
  • Consolidate your distractions as much as possible. So if, for example, you know you’ll have to make four phone calls, try your best to schedule them all in a given block.
  • Reduce the distractions in your day-to-day, like checking unrelated distractions at work – Hello, social media! – while you’re working.

In today’s whirling, must-have-it-yesterday society, we’ve been indoctrinated with the belief that multitasking is the only ‘-tasking’ – but more often than not, we do better when we focus on one thing at a time.

Still feeling puzzled by the art of microtasking and staying productive when working from home? This tip sheet will help you clear the clutter and keep your tasks and workload organized!