The Joy of Single-Tasking

While writing this post, I’ve checked eight emails and replied to four, checked Instagram for a second and saw this gorgeous wedding photo, talked to Stella about an upcoming photo shoot, and made a quick work phone call.

But, um, maybe — just thinking out loud here — it might be better to single-task? Multi-tasking has long been praised in the workplace, yet it’s kind of crazy when you think about it. Doing one thing at a time, and checking everything off the list, seems almost revolutionary these days. Single-tasking (or monotasking or unitasking) seems to be catching on more and more, as people get sick of feeling frazzled and pulled in all directions.

Single-tasking can make both your work and personal life better, writes Verena von Pfetten in the New York Times:

Humans have finite neural resources that are depleted every time we switch between tasks, which, especially for those who work online, Ms. Zomorodi said, can happen upward of 400 times a day, according to a 2016 University of California, Irvine study. “That’s why you feel tired at the end of the day,” she said. “You’ve used them all up.”

Monotasking can also be as simple as having a conversation. “Practice how you listen to people,” [psychologist Kelly] McGonigal said. “Put down anything that’s in your hands and turn all of your attentional channels to the person who is talking. You should be looking at them, listening to them, and your body should be turned to them. If you want to see a benefit from monotasking, if you want to have any kind of social rapport or influence on someone, that’s the place to start. That’s where you’ll see the biggest payoff.”

For the past couple years, I’ve left my phone at home when taking the boys to the park or playground. Even the weight of the phone in my pocket feels distracting. But after the boys are in bed, I’ll pull it back out again and have it generally around while watching TV or hanging out with Alex. But research shows that just having a phone on the table is distracting enough to reduce empathy and rapport between two people having a conversation, McGonigal told the Times. Now I want to try to keep it off all evening.

I met a guy once in L.A. who had “No-Phone Saturdays” during the first weekend of each month. He said it was really liberating — he would strike up conversations with people in line at the grocery story, and he actually bought a watch so he would know the time. And James Hamblin from the Atlantic has “Tab-Less Thursdays,” where he can have only one tab open on his computer at a time.

The Joy of Single-Tasking

Thoughts? Do you already do this? Do you have any phone rules?

P.S. Trying out slow parenting, which has really changed our family’s life.

(Photo by Kendra Smoot. Comic by Gemma Correll.)