"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

The art of monotasking

You might imagine you may do all the things directly, but you may't—and shouldn't.

Science has shown that when people multitask, they develop into more easily distracted and fewer productive, rating lower on tests to recall information, and make more mistakes. The reason is easy: the brain cannot concurrently give attention to multiple tasks that require a high level of mental activity.

Response to distraction

Older adults especially struggle with multitasking because aging brains have more trouble blocking out distractions. Distractions can impair their working memory – the power to retain and access information over a brief time period.

“Working memory helps you perform everyday mental tasks, such as learning a telephone number and then entering it into a smartphone, and following a conversation,” says Chu. “It also helps you with complex tasks like reasoning, comprehension and learning.”

Mono, not multi.

The solution to breaking free from multitasking is to monotask, meaning you give attention to only one task until it's done. “This approach reduces the load on working memory, reduces your risk of distraction, and helps you complete tasks more efficiently and quickly,” says Chu.

Effective monotasking revolves around managing time well, working for brief periods of time, avoiding distractions and managing stress. Here are several strategies that may assist you improve in these areas.

Enter only two each day preferences. People fall into the trap of multitasking by taking over too many projects. When faced with multiple work items, select the highest two and leave the remaining for an additional day. “Write them down in a weekly or daily planner, or add them to your phone or computer calendar, so you know which ones need attention,” says Chu.

Set aside time. Create a particular time-frame to your work and commit to it. “The important part about blocking time is respecting it,” says Chu.

Work intermittently. Research has found that working in intervals helps with monotasking, especially for individuals who struggle with focus. With intervals, you're employed for a set period of time followed by a brief mental break, and you then repeat the cycle until the duty is finished. (See “Time for breaks.”) “The back-and-forth between work and rest helps establish a rhythm, where your brain knows when to work and when to rest,” Chu says.

Time for breaks

A preferred interval method is the Pomodoro technique, through which you set a timer for 25 minutes and work straight through, then take a five-minute break, after which repeat. (You can adjust the work time as needed.) There are many apps for smartphones and computers that follow the Pomodoro technique, akin to Pomodoro, Forest, and FocusKeeper.

Block out distractions. A study found that a three-second interruption can double your risk of creating mistakes when performing a task. Create a distraction-free environment when monotasking. Stay away from web, TV and other stimuli. Turn off your phone, or set it to “do not disturb” to dam calls and notifications. “Whenever you go from a task to a distraction and then back, it takes time and mental energy to refocus, and it takes longer to finish the task,” Chu says. say

Manage stress. According to Chu, a rise within the stress hormone cortisol reduces working memory storage and retrieval. “Anything you can do to reduce and manage stress can support the brain for monotasking,” she says. For example, get more aerobic exercise, schedule regular social engagements, find time for a spiritual or religious practice, or consider psychotherapy.

Practice being within the moment. Train your brain for monotasking by practicing ways to remain present and focused. For example, meditate for five to 10 minutes a day: silently count your breaths in sets of 10 time and again. Reading is one other great exercise. Set aside 10 to twenty minutes a day to read, and take breaks once you feel distracted.

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