Try Monotasking to Be More Productive

Multitasking is how you turbo charge going too fast as a human. The American Psychological Association states, “Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.”

We use contrasting parts of our brains to complete different tasks. When one part of our brain is focused on one specific task, the other parts of our brain are, essentially, muted. When we switch between tasks, this forces our brain to “jump start” other areas of the brain for use. This reduces productivity and increases the amount of time needed to complete a task, because it takes our brain time to switch gears and access the knowledge stored in the different areas. Similarly, we cannot use our brain’s power to give an equal amount of intense focus to several different tasks all at once. Focusing on multiple things at a time diminishes our ability to access all of our stored knowledge for each specific task, thus, in turn, reducing productivity and diminishing the quality of the final product.

A good way to combat the turbo charge of going too fast is to plan out your day in advance. Set aside a few minutes in the morning (or the night before) to look over the tasks you have at hand for the day. Think about these questions while doing so: How many tasks do you NEED to finish by the end of your day? How long will each of your tasks take to complete? What is the priority and importance of each of your tasks? Which tasks will require the most brain power? By answering these few questions, you will then be able to plan out your day accordingly and will steer clear of multitasking (making you more productive!).

Brainy tasks first

Prioritize the tasks of most importance to be at the beginning of your day. The tasks that require the most brain power and that are due that day, or have a close due date, should be the tasks you do first thing in the morning. Next, do the tasks that have a medium amount of importance but require a good amount of brain power. You will want to schedule all your hardest and most challenging tasks closer to the beginning of your day and save easy, brainless tasks (like replying to emails) for the end of your day. This type of prioritizing will help keep you on task and will aid in productivity.

If it works for you, you can also try breaking up your day into segments once you have your task list for the day complete. Some people like to break their days up into thirty-minute increments, with one- to two-minute breaks in between to reset their brains. Others like to plow through the task and then take a short ten-minute break to give their brain a moment to switch gears to their next designated task. The important thing to remember is to give yourself small and short brain breaks to ward off exhaustion.

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Find what works for you. During your brain breaks, we recommend moving around a little bit. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the office to fill up your water bottle, keeping the blood moving in your body will help your brain tremendously. And while these short breaks may seem counterproductive, you will make up for this time with the added productivity you have by focusing on one task and avoiding multitasking.

Fit the person to the task

It is imperative that you take note that every situation has an exception. When you work in a position that doesn’t allow you to focus on one specific task at a time, you need to have the capacity to work efficiently in that setting. You need to know that your specific job does not allow you to monotask. For example, as a receptionist you may need to be interrupted frequently and quickly switch between tasks as the phone rings or as people come in to speak with you. This is inevitable in this kind of position, but the people who work productively in positions such as these are unique in their ability to resume the task they were working on prior to the interruption. They are able to plan for these disruptions and schedule their work accordingly.

It is also important to note that distractions will happen. When you are focusing on just one task you may be disrupted. The point of monotasking is to not plan to do multiple things at once, to do your best to focus on the one task in front of you, and to understand that you may become distracted by things that are not in your control. Working on monotasking to become more productive at work will take willpower and creating new habits. It may take you a few weeks to get the hang of it, but once you are proficient in planning out your day and monotasking, you will become more efficient and productive at work.

Dr. Brian Smith is the author of the newly released book Individual Advantages: Find the “I” in Team.

He holds a PhD in organizational psychology, a master's degree in management information systems, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt Consultant.

Brian has been helping business owners and managers since 1988. His company, IA Business Advisors (a DBA of Individual Advantages), has helped over eighteen thousand clients since 1996. His client base has always varied, ranging from large companies like Boeing Aircraft and Harrah’s Entertainment, to small, local businesses. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, IA worked with businesses in trouble due to the economic decline who struggled to afford consulting services. Recognizing this, Dr. Smith offered on-demand virtual consulting services; in which, businesses hindered by a strained economic environment and a restricted budget could consult with their company on an unlimited basis for a low, fixed monthly fee. Today, Brian’s team at IA continues to provide both virtual and onsite consulting services to more than 1,300 active clients worldwide. To learn more, please visit