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Should we all be monotasking?


Photo: William Iven/Unsplash Pin It
Photo: William Iven/Unsplash

When was the last time you did anything (including, ahem, going to the bathroom) without simultaneously sending an important email, carefully selecting an Instagram filter, or adding something witty to your Snapchat story?

We undoubtedly live in an age of being plugged in all the time, and while mindfulness experts advocate for being totally in the moment, multitasking is hard to give up. And the workplace doesn’t help: “I’m great at multitasking”—just like being a team player and always meeting deadlines—earns gold stars on performance reviews.

But is it good for you?

A 2014 study found that interruptions as brief as just two to three seconds (hello, pop-up email alert) were enough to double the number of errors participants made on an assigned task. Another study concluded that high media multitaskers are more easily distracted than those who limit their time toggling. Plus, a recent experiment on Manoush Zomorodi’s Note to Self podcast found that information overload makes us prone to distractions, and therefore less productive. “Our gadgets and all the things we look at on them are designed to not let us single-task,” Zomorodi says.

It’s too bad, because “monotasking” can actually make your work feel more enjoyable. “Almost any experience is improved by paying full attention to it,” psychologist and Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal tells the New York Times. “Attention is one way your brain decides, ‘Is this interesting? Is this worthwhile? Is this fun?'” Case in point: you find yourself texting during Meredith’s latest drama on Grey’s Anatomy, but give Olivia Pope’s antics on Scandal your full attention. McGonical asserts that monotasking “needs to be practiced,” and that “it’s an important ability and a form of self-awareness as opposed to a cognitive limitation.”

Humans only have so many resources in their brains, and they’re depleted every time we switch between tasks, Zomorodi says, adding that this can happen up to 400 times a day. “That’s why you feel tired at the end of the day,” she says. “You’ve used them all up.”

And um…final tip: leave your phone behind next time you go to the bathroom. It’s good to monotask in there, too.

 Maybe this is why all those adults started coloring? Another way to practice mindful monotasking is to take on more creative projects: here’s how