We have indeed reached the era of peak multi-tasking. It’s time to select a different corporate meme.
Study after recent study shows that multi-tasking is an illusion — we can’t perform two or more cognitive tasks in parallel, at the same time. Rather, we timeshare: dividing our attention from one task to another sequentially. These studies also show that dividing our attention in this way tends to have a deleterious effect on all of the tasks. I say cognitive tasks because it’s rather obvious that we can all perform some tasks at the same time: walk and chew gum (or thumb a smartphone); drive and sing; shower and think; read and eat. But, all of these combinations require that one of these tasks is mostly autonomic. That is, we perform one task without conscious effort.
Yet more social scientists have determined that multi-tasking is a fraud — perhaps perpetuated by corporate industrial engineers convinced that they can wring more hours of work from you.
What are we to do now having learned that our super-efficient world of juggling numerous tasks as the “same time” is nothing but a mirage?
Well, observers of the fragile human condition have not rested. This time social scientists have discovered an amazing human talent. And they’ve coined a mesmerizing new term, known as monotasking. In some circles it’s called uni-tasking or single-tasking.
When I was growing up this was called “paying attention”.
But, this being the era of self-help-life-experience-consulting gone mad and sub-minute attention spans (fueled by multi-tasking) we can now all eagerly await the rise of an entirely new industry dedicated to this wonderful monotasking breakthrough. Expect a whole host of monotasking books, buzzworthy news articles, daytime TV shows with monotasking tips and personal coaching experts at TED events armed with “look what monotasking can do for you” powerpoint decks.
Personally, I will quietly retreat, and return to old-school staying focused, and remind my kids to do the same.
Stop what you’re doing.
Well, keep reading. Just stop everything else that you’re doing.
Mute your music. Turn off your television. Put down your sandwich and ignore that text message. While you’re at it, put your phone away entirely. (Unless you’re reading this on your phone. In which case, don’t. But the other rules still apply.)
You are now monotasking.
Maybe this doesn’t feel like a big deal. Doing one thing at a time isn’t a new idea.
Indeed, multitasking, that bulwark of anemic résumés everywhere, has come under fire in recent years. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that interruptions as brief as two to three seconds — which is to say, less than the amount of time it would take you to toggle from this article to your email and back again — were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task.
Earlier research out of Stanford revealed that self-identified “high media multitaskers” are actually more easily distracted than those who limit their time toggling.
So, in layman’s terms, by doing more you’re getting less done.
But monotasking, also referred to as single-tasking or unitasking, isn’t just about getting things done.
Not the same as mindfulness, which focuses on emotional awareness, monotasking is a 21st-century term for what your high school English teacher probably just called “paying attention.”
“It’s a digital literacy skill,” said Manoush Zomorodi, the host and managing editor of WNYC Studios’ “Note to Self” podcast, which recently offered a weeklong interactive series called Infomagical, addressing the effects of information overload. “Our gadgets and all the things we look at on them are designed to not let us single-task. We weren’t talking about this before because we simply weren’t as distracted.”
Ms. Zomorodi prefers the term “single-tasking”: “ ‘Monotasking’ seemed boring to me. It sounds like ‘monotonous.’ ”
Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist, lecturer at Stanford and the author of “The Willpower Instinct,” believes that monotasking is “something that needs to be practiced.” She said: “It’s an important ability and a form of self-awareness as opposed to a cognitive limitation.”
Read the entire article here.
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