Radical Monotasking Report

I looked carefully at my multitasking and the results are in

The results are in.

Last Wednesday I did the Radical Monotasking 1-Day Challenge. A few folks came along for the ride via Twitter (#MonoTask – hello!) and through Provocateurs. We had a scoring system like golf – score a point each time you find yourself multitasking. (Thanks Shanna Mann for that one.) What I found interesting was just how hard this was. You know, I was aware of the science on multitasking. I knew we’re not designed for it. I knew that when we try to do several things at once, we actually degrade our performance in all of them. I also knew that this would be an exercise in mindfulness and presence. It would be about really doing what I was doing, and not being in the past, or the future, or even just sideways. And I practice mindfulness meditation pretty regularly, and more general mindful awareness every day (or so I thought). So I (hello, ego) thought this would be an interesting little exercise and a bit of fun.

And yes, it was those things. It was also a humbling experience. Because I became aware with VERY STARK CLARITY that I multitask (or task-switch) a whoooole lot more than I had previously realised. The urge to switch between windows on the computer and do lots of things at once did not dissipate as the day went on. Frequently while driving, I would find my hand on the radio dial, ready to switch on the music, before I’d made any kind of conscious decision to do so. I make it a priority to be fully present for conversations with my daughter. But I realised that is mostly for conversations that happen on my timetable. Last Wednesday, I would be fully present for a conversation with my daughter on her timetable for a few moments before getting impatient and trying to sneak back to whatever I’d been doing previously.

I also had a massive fail, because a last minute transport hiccup meant I either had to take a phone call while driving, or have my daughter miss a class she loves. So I took the call. Minus 10 points! I watched her class for an hour and frequently felt the urge to check my phone. So, instead of mindlessly flicking through it, I would decide consciously what I was about to do, then do it, then return to watching her. I did that 2 or 3 times. Which is kind of cheating, I think.

The highlights of the day were tea breaks. Usually when I take a break from desk work, I get a cup of tea and then am back at the desk with it within about 5 minutes, and back to work – not even noticing the tea as it slips down. Or I might take a “real” break and sit at the kitchen table with my tea, scrolling social media on my phone or reading a magazine. These breaks are not particularly restorative. Last Wednesday, each tea break involved making a cup of tea then taking it outside, where I sat in the sun and drank it. Bliss.

And, I was stupendously productive. I knocked so much off my to-do list, it was unbelievable. So – have I locked that in and made radical monotasking a habit? Why, no – no I haven’t. Why is that? Coz people can be their own worst enemies, that’s why.

So, how to get it into the grooves of my brain a little more? I think a regular practice to refocus would be good. Fellow coach Laura Erdman-Luntz is thinking of doing it each Wednesday. I’m considering that too. I think I would amend the rules a little to allow:

  • music while doing other tasks
  • drinking tea while working (while still mandating at least 2 proper breaks, plus lunch)
  • reading a book or magazine (but not computer/phone) while eating – but not all 3 meals of the day.

So, that would mean doing it again tomorrow. OK, yes. I will.

What about you? Did you try it? How’d you go? What do you think of the amended rules – any suggestions or thoughts? Let me know!

[Image by Suat Eman at Free Digital Photos.]



7 thoughts on “Radical Monotasking Report

  1. I agree with your amendments! Eating is so bloody boring.

    I found that I was stupendously *unproductive*, mainly, I think, from trying to resist the urge to task switch. It really sapped my will. And not so much task SWITCH as task AVOID. I wanted to click on another tab ANY tab, just to avoid finishing what I was writing. But I’m resolved to look into this odd behavior, because I don’t understand it– it wasn’t like I didn’t know what to write, or how I was going to say it!

    Thanks for running this, Maddie!

    • UN productive. How interesting! I am doing it again today and haven’t been particularly productive so far (it’s 11 am) from an output perspective – although I have been for a run and finished reading a book. I think that is also task avoidance. The avoidance of task avoidance is harder without mindless busyness to disguise it, perhaps?

      • Yes, I think so. Busyness fills the time better and *feels* productive. Whereas sitting down and bending my will to a single task is not only hard (because I’m out of shape) but because progress or lack thereof, is self-evident.

        Plus, I have definitely noticed in the past that much of my productivity is in fits and bursts… puttering seems to be very necessary, inefficient as it feels.

        Still, I think this is worth working at, but maybe for shorter periods of time.

    • Let me know how you go! I’m adding drinking coffee while driving to the new rules. I just HAVE to do that.

  2. Interesting post and experiment Maddie. The tea breaks remind me of an TV advert for a brand of tea showing people slowing down, mono-tasking i guess, totally absorbed in drinking their tea. The upside was they noticed more of the little things in life.
    I’m not sure that mono-tasking would be possible 100% of the time but in Buddhism they teach about being ‘in the moment’, fully conscious of what you are doing, fully focussed on the task at hand. All distractions slip away. You see this in sportspeople, fully focussed on the next shot, race etc and in children engrossed in a task, drawing, puzzle etc
    In conclusion I thinking having more mono-tasking in our lives would be a huge advantage.

  3. Pingback: Go “Internet-lite”, Unplug, Be Present, Enjoy the Holiday | Real Brilliance – Personal Coaching

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