One Thing at a Time: Monotasking in the Modern World

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Colby Abuhoff and Christy Cohen

When people begin to work on assignments or chores, they often do several at a time. This process – commonly known as multitasking – can cause individuals to produce lower-quality work. As multitasking has become increasingly commonplace in our modern world, it appears that no one is monotasking. When monotasking (performing one task at a time), many people find themselves able to focus better and produce higher-quality work than if they were to multitask.

Monotasking allows for information to be stored into the short-term memory, and eventually into the long-term memory as the information is repeatedly learned and practiced. This does not occur with multitasking, as information is more likely to remain in short-term memory. Due to high quantities of information reaching the brain during multitasking, and because much of the concepts are different from one another, the quality of information retained is lower than normal, as not everything gets the attention needed for it to become processed into long-term memory.

The amount of people multitasking on a regular basis is becoming an issue, because – as previously mentioned – some people may continuously produce lower quality work compared to others who monotask.

This information leaves behind a question: If multitasking is so harmful, then why do people do it?

One reason why many people have stopped monotasking is that they want to finish their tasks at a faster pace. In the world today, countless people lead increasingly busy lives and have lots to do, and so they try to multitask and do it all at the same time. It is believed that they will free up time to let them complete other jobs. Some feel like if they try to complete many tasks at once, then they will get done with all of them quicker, and believe they will be able to move on to the next assignment. The overwhelming lives of many in the world can influence them to want to finish everything at the same time so that they can quickly do the next job awaiting them.

Another reason why people turn to multitasking is that they have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time. Some people have attention deficit disorder (ADD), which can inhibit their ability to focus on one activity at a time. They cannot finish one thing without doing something else at the same time, such as fidgeting with a pencil while they take a test or clicking a pen while they listen to someone talk. In other cases, people do not have a disorder, but still, have issues with monotasking due to distractions. Technology can cause people to lose focus on tasks at hand and can cause people to become interested in other things, which can lead to the person not completing their tasks.

An additional reason behind the increase in multitasking is because people have become bored by doing only one activity. In everyday situations, such as doing homework or cleaning a bedroom, some people feel the need to listen to music or watch television while they work. When people are doing something that they are not engaged in or have little interest in, their attention tends to drift off and they are not able to finish the task. Sometimes, people do not want to do the job, and so turn on music, television, or something entertaining so that the job is less tedious and dull.

While people try to get back into the habit of monotasking on a regular basis, they may feel troubled in doing so. This is due to them being used to doing something else at the same time as what they were currently working on. Some solutions to get back into the habit of monotasking is to schedule strict times to do certain amounts of work. This would help keep a person’s day well-kept and organized so they could monotask. Although, in this scenario, if a person cannot work fast enough within that time period, they may feel rushed into just finishing the work without truly processing the information and not truly giving all the focus they can into it. Another solution for getting into the habit of monotasking is by prioritizing what must be done each day. With a person prioritizing what must be done, they may be able to know what needs to be focused on, and also allows them to practice scheduling so that they can get the most urgent tasks finished. Creating a schedule also helps to develop time management skills.

Developing a habit of monotasking may be a bit difficult to achieve; however, with all its benefits, it may be well worth it.