Have you monotasked today?

Monotasking shouldn't be confused with monocle-tasking, which involves tasks you do while wearing a monocle, such as: navigating your penny-farthing bicycle around troublesome street urchins or berating the scullery maid for not properly plucking the partridge.

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No, monotasking is single-tasking - the practice of committing to a single task in a distraction-free zone for an extended period of time.

Nowadays, monotasking feels impossible. We live in a world of distractions, where shiny things, timers, Facebook and reminders beckon from every corner.

Have you ever gone online to do one simple task, such as paying your electricity bill? Fifteen minutes later, you realize you've been sucked into a chat group that debates the pros and cons of owning a lion, you've ordered a case of Guatemalan gourmet ketchup off Amazon and you still haven't paid the bill.

We've turned into a nation of multi-taskers, and that's not necessarily a good thing. According to a blog post by writer/entrepreneur Samira Far on Inc.com, there are a multitude of problems with multi-tasking. Research suggests that multi-tasking not only can lower IQ, it also is a bit of a myth. We aren't actually performing multiple tasks at once. Instead, our brains are rapidly shifting attention between each of the activities we're attempting to do at the same time. It's actually called "task-switching," and it can decrease productivity by as much as 40 percent, according to research.

For me, monotasking is more productive. If I clear all the paperwork off my desk and commit to one job, I tend to create higher-quality work while avoiding high blood pressure.

Lately, I've spent a lot of time online researching the best way to monotask (while studiously avoiding those dastardly links in monotask articles that lead me even further into task-switching hell).

Here is what I learned:

1. Increase your capacity for deep work. "Deep work" is the ability to focus on a single, absorbing task for an extended period of time.

The tragedy is that most of us have little time for this cognitive state, as we are so busy, distracted and concerned about productivity that we wind up working in 15-minute bursts of relatively shallow focus.

To practice "deep work," set aside several hours in which you can hone in on a single project without interruption by phone, email or social media. (I know. It may require a retreat on the moon to achieve this.)

These sessions of sustained attention will allow the types of mental breakthroughs that simply don't happen when we're living in the House of Tasks and Fog.

2. Make your task list short - and meaningful. Forget the 47-item "Stuff I Must Get Done by 5 p.m. Today or I'm a Complete Failure" list. Instead, ask yourself what are the two most important things you can do today to make the greatest impact.

Such questions force us to drill down on the items that will make the biggest difference, rather than getting caught up in time-wasting busywork.

3. Create "negative" time." Give yourself time to do absolutely nothing. Our brains need that time, neurologically, to take a break. This time can be spent going for a walk, enjoying a beach book, enjoying nature or - in my case - binge-watching "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

Hey, I LOVE negative time. In fact, I practically invented it.


I've been a monotasker all along.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.