How to become a mono-tasker

This article was originally published by Money & Life
By Amantha Imber

June 9, 2020

Are you addicted to multi-tasking? Dr Amantha Imber provides three science-backed strategies to become a mono-tasker.

You’re working hard on a report. It’s due tomorrow. But it’s hard work. And you’re feeling stuck with what to write next. To relieve the discomfort, you do a ‘just check’ of your inbox.

After spending a couple of minutes feeling productive by deleting all the e-newsletters that always seem to return even after you have unsubscribed, you remember the report. You tab back to your Word document and keep writing, but only for a few minutes. And then you’re stuck again.

This time, you do a ‘just check’ of Slack. You read a few threads, remember you are writing a report, and then get back to it. And so the pattern continues. Sounds familiar?

It can seem harmless at the time – the to-ing and fro-ing between tasks. But research by Professor David Meyer suggests that when we multi-task – or task switch – things take around 40 per cent longer.

Multi-tasking is addictive. For example, we crave the dopamine hit that email gives us – the feeling of a great news email arriving, and rapidly making your way through messages, feeling a sense of progress. But we all know this is false progress – no one ever got promoted by achieving inbox zero every evening.

Here are three ways to kick your multi-tasking addiction and get more work done in less time.

1. Block out temptation with Freedom

I used to erroneously try to kick my own multi-tasking habit through sheer brute and willpower. But that strategy only lasts so long, because willpower is a limited resource. And the less we can rely on it, the more successful we will be at building new habits.

To preserve your willpower, use Freedom.to. Freedom literally locks you out of any website or software for a time period you chose.

This software was a game changer for me. I used it to create new working habits. Once they were formed and I was relatively effortlessly focusing on one thing at the one time and not succumbing to digital distractions, I no longer found I had the need to use Freedom.

2. Go analogue

I largely abandoned paper notebooks a long time ago, despite being someone who has an unhealthy love of stationary shops. However, when I was trying to kick my own multi-tasking habit, I went out and bought a Moleskin (and some pens, highlighters, pencils…).

Switching to paper for projects that involve writing, thinking or brainstorming, can be a very effective way to be a mono-tasker. It’s impossible to switch applications when you are writing in a notepad.

As an added side effect, research from Princeton University and the University of California has shown that taking notes by hand in a notebook leads to better recall of the content compared to those typing notes on a laptop. So, not only will you reduce multi-tasking, you will also mentally process information much more effectively.

3. Plant a (virtual) tree

Our mobile phone can be a major cause of multi-tasking without us even being aware of our behaviour. The ‘bings’ and ‘dings’ of notifications constantly pull us away from the main task we are trying to get done.

Given the pull of the phone, one of my favourite app discoveries (ironically, a mobile app) last year was Forest. You set the timer for how long you want to focus on a task, and it grows a tree. But if you succumb to the temptation to do a ‘just check’ of your phone, you kill the tree! And who wants to do that?

So, stop relying on willpower to be a mono-tasker and instead, get a notepad, lock yourself out of digital temptations, and go grow a tree.