Single-Tasking is the New Multitasking

Earlier this month, I was riding my bike across the Brooklyn Bridge, when my phone fell out of my pocket. Rats! So I was forced to spend the next week without a phone.

The big surprise? It was amazing.

My whole life seemed to slow down. Instead of checking email at the playground, or texting a friend at the grocery store, I enjoyed the present moment. I joked with my babies; I smiled at passersby. It was a relief to not feel my phone in my pocket, tempting me to look. I felt free and untethered. There was even a simple joy in leaving notes for Alex when we went out: “Meet us at the playground,” or “We’re going to the sprinklers, be home in an hour.”

“We’re picking up cues from our culture about the way we live our lives and the pace at which we live our lives,” a pastor recently said in a sermon called The Theology of Rest. “Rest isn’t a priority, because so often rest is confused with laziness…Rest, instead of being something passive, is actually an act of resistance. We live in The City That Never Sleeps—so resting may be the most countercultural and spiritual thing we do with our lives.”

This singletasking video also really struck me. I posted it in my Friday round-up, but wanted to post it again here. It’s funny and enlightening—totally worth watching!

How about you? Would you take a break from your phone? Do you have any phone rules? Now that I have a new one, I’m challenging myself to leave it at home as much as possible.

P.S. Encouragement and happiness.

(Video by The Atlantic. New Yorker cartoon by Liam Walsh, via this post)

  1. Blair says...

    I love this. So I recently broke “another” phone. I have been without a phone for over a week and to be honest. I love it. I never want another phone. While I know that isn’t practical I also know that when my replacement phone arrives I will not be on it nearly as often as I was before. I get SO much more done, enjoy my time and my kids more and feel so much less weight on my shoulders bc of that tiny digital contraption.

  2. My new routine is keeping it out of the bedroom- way too tempting to scroll mindlessly before bedtime & first thing in the morning. Also to put it down my 8pm each night.
    I just cracked the screen on my phone (ARGH!), so may not be so tempted to look at it, considering the giant cracks disrupting my view!!

  3. So uhhh. RIGHT before I came across this post — literally SECONDS before — I was exclaiming to my office mate that it was so damn relieving to not have my phone with me today.

    I left it in my car which is in the parking garage which is a few blocks away from my office. TOTALLY ON ACCIDENT. And it’s been fantastic. So fantastic that I’m going to leave it there again tomorrow morning after I park. ON PURPOSE.

  4. I recently took my facebook ap off my phone (and am considering doing the same with pinterest, another time sucker!) I can still check them when I want but I no longer get the constant alerts. I check it much less now and yes, it is freeing. I think I get less headaches as well from not staring at a screen as much. I like the idea of a “Screen Sabbath” on the weekends :D

  5. I’m 37 years old and have never owned a cell phone, never will. I call myself the old curmudgeon at work where I’m in awe (not in a good way) of the amount of texting, Instagram viewing, and general phone checking that goes on all the time. I sometimes feel out of the loop for not seeing the latest viral video, but generally feel incredibly content that I am very connected to my surroundings and present in whatever situation I’m in.

  6. Hey. It’s Gwen. I was just reading a woman’s blog who lives in Oaxaca, México, just a fifty-five minute plane ride from me, in D.F., México. So I clicked, and here you are talkin’ ’bout one of my favorite subjects: travel! A Cup of Jo. No kidding. I was in Brooklyn this time last year, chompin’ at the bit to get out. And now, I am. Mas o menos nine months in this country, with a visa run to Guate. Thought I’d say hello, and let you know. It is possible to live phone-free. I’ve done so since January 2012 when I perma-deleted it in The Mission, S.F.


  7. That’s so true – I have been wanting and trying to unplug for so long, but after watching this, I think I’m really trying to go for it again! A couple of months ago I decided not to have internet on my phone anymore for a while and a break from all those fb messages and whatsapps made it so much easier to actually focus fully on whatever I was doing, whether it was waiting for a bus or having a coffee with a friend. I’m always sort of afraid that I’ll miss something if I’m out of the reach of others, but then again, it really annoys me how it has gotten to the point when I can’t even watch a whole movie anymore without opening other tabs on laptop, looking through photos on instagram or messaging someone..

  8. I once took four months off from my phone (during 2012). I even took a week and a half vacation! It was definitely freeing :)

  9. I try to do all my social networking in the morning, and then in my break in the afternoon (I work splits) I blog, and then in the evening I reply to text messages, etc. It means I am often behind, or last to know things, but if it’s that important they’ll find a way to get hold of me!

  10. I don’t take enough breaks from my phone, but I love taking a break from it when I’m out on dates or running errands with my husband. Leaving it at home or turning it off and just being in the moment together. It’s so refreshing.

  11. We did this with the TV. It’s so nice to not have a TV on all the time as background noise. Now, it’s a treat for the kids to watch a show. The rest of the time, we enjoy silence (technically: yelling, crying, and laughing w kids!) and my brain feels less cluttered.

  12. My husband is a rabbi and we keep Shabbat (sabbath), so we don’t use our phones or email from sundown on Friday night until post-sundown on Saturday night. People sometimes ask us whether it’s difficult, but honestly, we look forward to it all week! We talk, read, go on long walks, and laugh with our baby without being interrupted by emails, calls, and texts. It’s lovely- though it does make it hard to meet up with friends in the park on Saturday afternoons ;)

  13. No phone (at 18, so no work responsibilities) and I love it ( makes me more focused and less flaky and helps me interact w strangers when I do need a phone) but it causes contention with my family and friends. I Do spend waaaayyy more time on fb than I should/wish to, though (hope to work on that!) I have gone to and now work at a camp with no tech (or electricity/running water) and am there for 2 months in the summer. I love love love it.
    Side note: I saw you in Fire Island but was too shy to say hi… Hi from me, girl riding by you swinging Anton :)

  14. #1 We love you + your blog (you are the best!)
    #2 As two working MOMS, we struggle to be present both at home and at work. That’s why we created MEMI, a chic smartbracelet that discretely vibrates to notify you of important calls and texts. Our bracelet allows you to UNPLUG WITHOUT DISCONNECTING FROM THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER MOST. How? You control who “breaks through” to your bracelet via our app. The best part is, the technology is completely disguised as fashion jewelry so you look more CHIC than geek. Check it out here: xo

  15. I like to leave my phone at home if I am going out for the evening. My husband refers to it as “kicking it 90s style.” (nerd)

    The few times I’ve done it lately I found myself having a much more enjoyable time. I engaged in conversation more than I normally would, soaked up my surroundings, and my favorite thing to do… people watch.

    I plan to do it more often, especially since I have found myself checking my phone while someone was talking to me. RUDE.

  16. megan, i laughed out loud at your comment. i thought the same thing! and bucktown mom, i love that:) love all these comments, thanks!!

  17. Such a great topic! That line about rest being akin to laziness is so true…thankfully I’ve always put a lot of stock in rest (or ‘laziness’) but I have friends who are stretched so thin and always multitasking. I feel a little naked and unsafe without my phone now, but sometimes I wish I was living in the age before cell phones where you just had to make-do and be more independent! I would really like to quit Facebook, but I’m fairly certain I’d lose touch with my friends without it. :(
    (Also this video is so funny, and this guy is kind of adorable, even if he looks like a 16yo.) :D

  18. I love being able to text my friends or my husband random things throughout the day.. I don’t use Twitter or (GASP!!) Facebook, in part because I’m a really private person and also because I know what huge time sucks they can be. But I constantly send little bits of info, jokes and photos through text to the people I know will actually appreciate it. I don’t expect immediate replies, but I do think the sense of connection I get from it is real.. I certainly still crave in-person, face to face communication and feel guilty at times feeling like my phone is dragging me away from that. And when I do force myself to put my phone away and ignore it, it becomes gratingly obvious how addicted everyone else is to their devices. Finding someone to actually make eye contact with and say hello to can take awhile!

  19. My phone just broke down yesterday and i’ll be phone-less for a little while (and i’m actually excited about it). Yesterday, someone asked for the time and I had to check A WATCH. Wowza, wake up call.

  20. Even while watching that single tasking vid I was eating pasta and wanting to get up and get my phone to check who knows what. Sometimes I have tabs open for weeks of blog posts I didn’t finish reading/a website I wanna check out. I am closing all my tabs now!

  21. I am home alone during the day and often feel lonely and isolated, so I really enjoy having my phone to stay connected to people on. But when my husband gets home, we focus on each other and not our phones. When I have company, go out to eat, am with friends/family, etc., I do not check my phone. I think people who do are quite rude.

  22. It’s tough these days! I love technology as much as the next person but it has created a world we can be plugged in at all times and are often expected to be. What frustrates me most as a home schooling mom (of 5!) is that people just don’t understand when I don’t respond to their texts or calls immediately. I often get a lot of flack for this from extended family and friends. As much as I appreciate the finer points of my phone, sometimes I long for the good ole days, where being able to be reached at all times simply wasn’t an option. And sadly, I often feel as though resting = laziness, when in reality it is so vital to our physical and mental well-being.

  23. The same thing happend to me like a couple of months ago. My phone just broked down, couldn’t turn it on and for some reason it took two weeks to fix it. And IT IS TRUE a i felt relaxed had more time on my hands, but I also admit that after I got the phone back, I slowly went back to checking it a lot

  24. I have a super low-tech phone and I don’t have internet on it. It is AWESOME 99% of the time. I always see people on the bus or train glued to their phones. I love just staring out the window and thinking about life. Do people do that anymore? Whenever I am out at the park with my son I am just out at the park with my son. I get that many people are trying to juggle work or other family responsibilities, but since I stay at home that isn’t a factor for me. I could never ditch my phone completely. I feel like I need it for emergencies. Just a few weeks ago I had to use it because a man had been hurt and needed help, so I was able to call 911. I keep thinking about getting an iPhone because there are times it would be nice–like today when I was completely lost and had to call my husband to help me figure out where to go–but I’m not sure it is worth it.

  25. My husband and I have made the change of not checking our phones during meal times and just talk and enjoy our meal.
    And I’ve slowly trained myself to do the same at different situations, ie. during the commute to/from work, when I’m with friends, when I’m all alone. I just think of the things I can do instead of spending hours online, like read a book or finish my craft projects.
    Having social media accounts is good for keeping in touch with family and friends who are far away, but going overboard with the constant checking prevents you from actually connecting with those who are physically with you

  26. that last cartoon with the dog collar to keep him from looking at his phone is a riot!! i 100% agree with the statement that we confuse resting with laziness. i’m checking my phone every 20 minutes – yes really, and i even get on my own nerves about it!! i need to break up with my phone more often.

  27. My only comment is that that the guy really adorable and charming and clearly smart . . . but is he really A DOCTOR? Like, a full-fledged grown up person doctor? He really looks young! Or maybe I’m just getting really, really old!

  28. p.s. full disclosure: I do have an ipad mini that I love and can use to text and instagram, but only pick it up a few times a day.

  29. Is there any chance any of you who said it was “amazing” to not have/use your cell phone could actually choose not to have one? Does your work or other factors dictate that you must? This might blow your mind, but I don’t have a cell phone (never have) and unless there is some reason that I absolutely have to, I won’t! I think a lot of people think they *need* a cell phone, who might not. Just playing the devil’s advocate here…

  30. I seem to have avoided this phone-obsession that goes on with people. It just doesn’t occur to me to look at my phone when I’m interacting with people!
    My husband is terrible with his devices though, he always has his nose buried in his phone. He even has it set up to buzz him when various things happen – emails and other notifications – so on the off chance he isn’t looking it’ll still notify him!

    I figure when you have kids, it’s important to think about what you’re doing and whether you’d be happy for them to do the same – would you be happy if they pulled out their phone to read while you were sitting at a meal together? Or while you were playing a board game? If it’s not okay for them then it’s not okay for you.

  31. That’s so true. It’s actually the reason that I love playing the violin and chose surgery as my profession. Both require very concentrated efforts without distraction or multi-tasking. Time flies and you’re totally absorbed. I rarely get that with any other activities, even physical exercise. My mind always wanders or I start doing at least three things at once!

  32. I had my phone stolen and complications with the insurance caused me to be cell-free for over two weeks…and I couldn’t agree with you more – it was amazing. I’ve vowed since then to have a weeklong phone holiday at least twice a year. Life’s passing us by while were all busy tweeting, texting, and typing. Great post.

  33. Loved this! I have also tried to remember how to unitask, but it isn’t easy, especially when you have kids. It’s important to teach kids to focus too, as I talked about on my blog a while back:;postID=3112019914838012088;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=4;src=postname
    We all feel so driven to get tasks done, that we oven lose sight of the purpose of each thing we are doing. Great reminder here!

  34. My husband and I just moved back to the US from South Africa and we haven’t gotten phones yet. It’s definitely weird but it’s so nice not to be tempted to check it all the time.

  35. As a freelance artist, it would kill my career if I didn’t have my phone on me at all times! I do, however, have a rule that I don’t look at my phone when I am with friends or on a date. I think it’s so rude when you are spending time with someone and they keep checking their phone. I will take a phone call when it’s from a client but always apologize for interrupting.

  36. i keep my phone with me for safety reasons, usually. either i’m with my kids and it’s good to have it just in case, or like last weekend, i leave my kids with my husband and take the car to go get some ice cream and my son gets hurt at the playground. i think: i’m going to enjoy these 20 minutes to myself and leave my muted phone in my purse and of course, the one time i’m unavailable, something happens. i found that the notifications i can see on my android even when my phone is not totally on helps cut down on how often i look at my phone. a quick glance without picking up my phone shows me if i’m missing a text or phone message, a work email, or a regular email and i can prioritize. i don’t think iphones have that perk.

  37. sk says...

    Your break sounds awesome. I *hate* having a cell phone. My mom pays for it (it’s not a smart phone!) even though I am 33 and gainfully employed, because she insists that I have one. I fully understand the safety aspects, and as a new mom I am grateful to have it sometimes. But I just hate being available all the time. Sometimes you just want to be unreachable, you know? I do have a few rules: I turn it off when I go to bed and turn it back on when I leave for work the next morning. I don’t ever use it in front of my kid (except when it’s important– just no mindless texting or chatting or whatever). If my mom stops paying for it I will likely get rid of it!

  38. I don’t need to take a break such as losing it as I control it on my own. But look, it’s a really useful tool & no, I’m not giving it up. I find there’s always “nostalgia” for days that never really existed as they are thought of…and when there is an emergency, oh boy, do I love mobile devices. I do love the video & sent it to lots of friends. But the either/or ness of the convo as it exists in social media re: device v no device is annoying to me. (You’re not annoying to me, tho.:) xo

  39. I love this post! I refuse to buy a smart phone just because it is easy to see from looking around that people get sucked into them and their heads are down too much, missing the moments passing them by!

  40. So true! I don’t check my phone often, but I do have friends who check it constantly throughout the day. It’s so much better to just try and stay present.

  41. Funny story…on Saturday I watched that video from your site, thought my dad would love it, so clicked the link and sent it to him saying “You’re going to love this video!” He called me an hour later and said “Did you know you sent me a video on the female orgasm?” I DIED! Turns out I sent him the link to the next video that loaded instead of the multi-tasking one. HA!

  42. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is addicted to his Iphone and it drives me absolutely insane. I’ve considered taking a picture every time I see him on his Iphone and making a collage of sorts.

  43. I am from the US but have been living in rural Mexico for 4 years. Now, when I go back to the states to visit, I have to keep myself from getting angry at family and friends for being so attached to their phones. I am certainly behind in technology (my brother just explained to me what a hashtag is :) but at least dinner parties where no one is looking at their cell phone is still a normal thing here.

  44. Honestly, when we’re on our deathbed, i doubt we’ll wish we had spent more time on our Iphones, Facebook…etc…

    I don’t have an Iphone for this reason…even though they do take good pictures…got a film point and shoot camera from the 90s instead that takes WAY better pictures (i’ve lost way too much stuff due to faulty technology, also there is an element of surprise in film and it is exciting)…Deleted my facebook a year and a half ago (the important people in your life stay in your life)…I wrote my baby brother a letter the other day and sent it in the ::gasp:: mail.

    I am however still spending too much time on BLOGLOVIN…so I’m going to have to set some rules in place for how long I can be on the internet each day…

    Yes the web is a powerful and useful tool but like anything it can be abused. Moderation is key.

  45. I definitely see the appeal of leaving it behind – we are becoming so obsessed. However, leaving it at home doesn’t seem like a realistic solution for me because I don’t live in a walking city. I drive almost everywhere and I really can’t imagine not having a way to contact someone in an emergency. I have heard of apps that force you to unplug by locking your phone for hours at a time. Good balance?

  46. Hahah I LOVE that last photo!! So hilarious.

    Ugh, I need to try this. I’m so attached to my phone and it’s hard to not put it down.

  47. It’s really amazing how quickly you get used to NOT having your phone right?! I travel pretty often and even for extended/international trips, I keep my phone in airplane mode. And I don’t miss it one bit. Even at home, my boyfriend and I usually leave our phones when we go to dinner and so we get to really focus on each other/our food/our experience together. I love it.

  48. Well… I like to have my phone on me in case I need it for an emergency. I agree we all tend to check out phones way too often, though. I do love my phone lol. I set some rules, like I don’t use it on vacation much (roaming is expensive and wifi isn’t always available), and I don’t use it if I’m with a friend or out to dinner or something. I always feel free not being attached to a computer (I never take mine on holiday).

  49. The same thing happened to me this spring when I lost my phone! Thanks for the reminder that one doesn’t have to actually lose a device in order to connect with present moment awareness….!

  50. I have had a few phone breaks in recent years :
    We moved to Argentina and no one knew us to call us . We spoke English. We moved back to the US. No one knows us to call us. My iPhone just quit working. I am now using an old fashioned cell phone that does nothing .. I think it takes photos but I haven’t figured that out yet. I want a new iPhone because I can take good photos with it and read emails .. since I am now alone in a new place, that is nice when I am out alone.

  51. I opened a new tab after the video ’cause the whole time I was thinking part of what made it so funny is that the young man looked SO young. (I kept wondering where they got the teenager with such a nice shirt, did he get to keep it?) Turns out he’s a SENIOR editor & and a doctor who makes fun of Dr. Oz. Thanks, Joanna, for giving me more stuff to do on the internet. More on task – I learned not too long ago that my flip phone is really uncool, and I’m okay with that.

  52. That cartoon is hilarious! So true! I have days where I’m really into my phone and days I’m not. I’ve had it with me and just forgotten about it unless it rings. It seems that the best solution is to only look at it during certain times….when the kids aren’t around! This is a great reminder, though!

  53. I know you probably won’t read this, but if you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I recently wrote about how I deleted facebook, instagram, snapchat and all the other social media accounts from my phone and blocked them online.

    Here’s a little story about my first weekend without them:

    I deleted everything for a whole month. Now that I’m back on it, i feel totally addicted and overwhelmed again. It might be time for another social media detox.

  54. Have you read Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte – an enlightening read and looks at how we can work, love and play differently in such a busy, overloaded, multi-media world.
    I am very much a fan of doing one thing well and less is definitely more!

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  56. I sometimes find myself checking my phone around my toddler and baby, but I really try not to. My baby gives me her full attention, and doesn’t she deserve the same respect? That is my rule of thumb. When out with the children I never check my phone unless they are napping or I am sending a cute picture to the grandparents.

  57. It’s hard, but my husband and I are definitely trying. We have an eight-month old, and we hope to enforce a “no screens ’til 3” policy… so we’re trying to practice what we preach and get in the habit now of only doing computer work during naps (like now!)

  58. so true…so liberating. We go away for the entire month of August, no phones, no ipad..unplugged and in touch with nature, the beach, sun, sand and surf! Counting down the days.

  59. I unplug from social media on the weekends, and my phone is not a smartphone, so email checking is restricted to once or twice a day on an actual computer. I love it :)

  60. That happened to me a little while ago too & it was the best few days of my life! It was so incredibly freeing (and also gave me an excuse to be MIA from everyone for awhile — which I may like a little too much :))

  61. We have an eight month old son and I felt so ashamed the other day when I realized he was fussing because he saw my phone sitting on the couch out of his reach. Eight months old and he already knows that my phone is very important to me! Ahhh! So, yes, definitely putting the phone in a drawer when I get home every night so I can concentrate on quality time with my babe. And also leaving my purse in the backseat so I’m not tempted to peek at it whilst driving — so distracting!

  62. nishis, you are so sweet! i’m really flattered:) caroline actually worked on the interviews all last week and we’ll be sharing the posts in july and august. i should have made that more clear—sorry about that! thanks again for your sweet comment.

  63. my main issue is that most of my friends live out of town. It’s the only way we can keep in touch. Facetiming while i make dinner, talk on my drive home from work, text throughout the day.
    So for that element alone, i think i’d feel very lonely without it. And in the past i’ve tried to think “how did i keep in touch with them before cell phones?”
    the answer is i didn’t. being in contact with them is what grew these friendships. Being able to call from my car, crying, when i have a bad day. Texting them a picture from the dressing room to get their opinion on a dress. I think if i lost my phone, the friendships would take a little bit of a hit.

  64. Is anyone else wondering what happened last week (i.e. why caroline never posted on Motherhood Around the World while Joanna was away)? Am I the only one that suffered CoJ withdrawal…??

  65. Awesome. And funnily ironic that the ad before the video was for increasing worker productivity by giving them many portable screens with which to work remotely!!

  66. sarah, i know! it’s such a habit. i’ve started putting it in drawers, etc., where i can’t see it. if my phone is on the kitchen counter, i’ll press it every time i walk by.

  67. I’m thinking about using my cell phone like a landline, and leaving it at home unless I’m traveling.

  68. joy, great minds, ha! going to check out your post right now…xoxo

  69. yes, so funny how we’re all multitasking while watching the singletasking video :)

  70. I am terrible at checking my phone. Before bed, when I get up, at the dinner table, etc. I so want to make it a priority, but it’s almost instinctual. I really believe it’s an addiction in our culture. We have an awareness, but how can we stop? We rely on it so heavily!

  71. I deleted the Facebook mobile app from my phone last week and I don’t miss it one bit. Instead of constantly checking it for no reason, I try to focus on the baby or the dog or just relax for a change.

  72. I feel completely untethered and unsafe without my phone, figuring, among other irrational things, that the time I forget it will be the time that I absolutely will need it most (has happened).

    I try to control it rather than letting it control me. Easier said than done, obvs.

  73. yes! just wrote about this yesterday!

  74. So true. I actually had to stop myself from skimming through the “Theology of Rest” article while I was watching the video you posted! Time for a digital detox of my own, I guess!

  75. I have been wanting to “unplug” for the longest time – it’s even on my 101 in 1001 list – though I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it quite yet…but now I see I really need to!

    Thanks for the inspiration, I’m putting this as one of my top priorities for the next week :)

  76. that video is too funny! And, I have to admit, while watching it I was checking my emails and had 7 other tabs open! When we get home from work, it amazes me that my husband plugs his phone in to charge in the bedroom, and then leaves it there… all night and doesn’t check it! I usually have to charge my phone twice, after work, because I use it so much!

  77. So true. I often find myself trying to do as much as possible but we need to sit back & breathe. It’s not laziness! It’s rest. :] // ☼