A little while ago I read an article on mono-tasking. As you may have guessed, it’s the opposite of multi-tasking. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable of taking more than one thing on at a time, it just means you choose not to. The article suggests that by focusing your energy fully on one task, you will do a better job, get things done faster, and be more productive. I find myself thinking about this a lot these days, usually when I’m up to my eyeballs in a billion different deadlines.
It seems like society encourages multitasking. We all agree that we live in a busy time, and everyone has a lot on the go. Being able to juggle a number of things at once is a prized skill. You’re encouraged to put it on resumes and in cover letters. (Lord knows I have). But as I flick through all of the tabs open in my browser, paying my visa bill while Photoshop opens, or checking my facebook while a file loads, I wonder if this really is the better way.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihályi suggests that humans are wired to be happiest when in a state of complete absorption with the activity at hand. (It’s a little more complicated than that – you can hear him talk about it here.) But does this mean we’re less happy when we’re working on a number of things at once?
I am a multitasker. Or, I’m easily distracted. Or both. I think some of my flitting about is due to my personality (I tend to take on a lot), and some of it is due to habit (I’m a twenty-something living in the digital age; what can I say?) I’m embarrassed at how many times I’ve navigated away from this page while writing. But I have been trying to be better at focusing on one thing at a time. Here’s how I’ve been going about it:
– make a list (whatever works best for you; list by day, week, or just a general ‘to do’)
– prioritize the list (list in order of time sensitivity and importance)
– cut the crap (I bet quickly checking your twitter feed was not on the list)
– stick with it (crossing things off lists feels great)
– take a real break (guilt free. go for a walk. have some lunch. check in with twitter.)
My question to you is, do you think one approach is better than another? I still really can’t decide. I feel like I tend to have productive days and stand-still days, no matter whether I’m multi or mono tasking, but I can’t say for sure. Do you have a secret to make it work for you? Are you strongly in one court over the other? (Are you reading this while you wait for Photoshop to load?….)
Image Sources:Ben Sutherland and johntrainor