Ep. 119 – Why Monotasking Can Totally Enhance Your Life

Do you consider multi-tasking a badge of honor? At times, it’s useful, but it can splinter your mind, cause lots of stress and stunt your personal growth. In contrast, doing one thing at a time, or monotasking, invites more productivity, efficiency, peace of mind and personal growth






02:45 – The different types of multi-tasking and the costs to your well-being 

14:15 – The average adult attention span now and 30 years ago  

19:00 – 6 tips for being more of a ‘monotasker’    




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Below is a machine-generated transcript and therefore the transcript may contain errors.

This is Ep 119 –  Why Monotasking Enhances Your Life.  Some people consider multi-tasking a badge of honor, but it can splinter your mind, cause undue stress and stunt your personal growth. Doing one thing at a time, or monotasking, paradoxically allows more productivity, efficiency, peace of mind and personal evolution. Hi, I’m Carla Rieger. And this is the MindStory Speaker podcast.

If you really think about it, most of your life is made up of little tasks, often the same tasks you did yesterday, and the day before, and the decade before and so on. Putting away clothes, washing dishes, grocery shopping, preparing a meal, checking messages. Giving your full attention to especially the little things is far more life enhancing than maybe many of us realize.

Of course, some things naturally absorb more of our attention, like watching a psychological thriller movie. You know, where you stop eating the popcorn, it’s halfway to your mouth and you hold it there while you see if the guy can escape the bullets, jump on the wing of the plane, break a window and climb in before dying. Or you’re driving, and you come to your destination but you can’t quite find the correct address, so you turn down the music. You need to focus. But if you’ve done a task many times before, people often feel drawn to multitask. I know I do, and sometimes it’s appropriate, or you have to given the circumstances, and in some cases it might even help the task at hand, but sometimes it actually creates an ongoing, low-level agitation and splintering of the mind, that also makes you less effective at the task and can stunt your personal development.

A Zen master was once asked – what is the essence of Zen? The master said, Zen is doing one thing at a time. It allows an inner empowerment, to come out of the conditioning of your mind, of consciousness bias, out of the repetitive programs that run us every day. And it’s harder to be discerning, to make wise choices, small and large, when our minds are splintered in several directions. We just fall into old patterns, get duped the same way into thinking, doing or feeling in some way that may not be good for you or others.

Of course, we often think of multitasking as something like…the woman who is talking on the phone, while feeding the baby, while making dinner, while checking email, while trying to put on nylons. But there are other kinds of multitasking you may not realize you are doing. For example, when you alternate between different tasks and never really finishing any of them. Like you half respond to an email and then answer the phone, then the doorbell rings while you are on the phone, and then you decide you need to go find something in another room, and you get to the other room and you can’t remember what you were looking for.

Then there’s where you’re splitting your time between larger, more complex, say, higher priority tasks and consistent interruptions from lower priority, less time-consuming tasks that arrive via email, text, instant message, or face-to-face interruptions. And if you allow all these interruptions to pull your attention away, you’re essentially spending the entire day multitasking. The problem is, there’s this opportunity cost every time you let an interruption take your attention. So you half wrote an email, and they get back to the email, and you can’t remember what you wanted to say about it, you have to reread the whole email again, and think through what you wanted to say again, and so it takes much longer. And then you go back to your bigger task like writing a proposal and you can’t remember where you left off, so that takes five minutes, then you can’t get back the flow you were in anymore, you’ve lost your motivation to stay focused, and so it becomes easier to just check messages again. The monotasking approach would be to separated small, quick low priority tasks into one time of the day…doing a batch at a time, it would likely be more enjoyable, less irritating, less fracturing, and more effective in terms of the communication you’re doing because your full attention is on it.

Another type of multitasking is less noticeable. It’s where you are just focused on one thing, like making a salad, but your mind is in the future, thinking of all the things you have to buy at the store tomorrow. Or, you’re running an online meeting, and someone is talking but you’re thinking about another meeting you need to be on after this and you hope it doesn’t go on too long, so you miss what the person was saying. They say to you…so what do you think? and you’re like, ah…that sounds fine…and all of sudden you’ve just agreed to the meeting going 30 minutes longer. In contrast, when you are giving full attention to others and what they want to say, people feel heard, they sense it, the communication all around with everyone goes up exponentially, the meeting is often more efficient, more effective, ends on time, and people are less likely to be multi-tasking themselves during the meeting. That’s an example of monotasking as a group leader.

Or, have you ever watched someone address a large group of people at a live event, like a seminar or conference, and they seem uncomfortable? They’re likely multi-tasking as a speaerk. They’re thinking about how badly they did when addressing a group last time, or they notice a group of people talking amongst themselves as they speak, and they start second guessing their ability as a public speaker or their content. In contrast, when you see a speaker who is really engaging the audience, they are likely giving full attention to the audience and what they want to convey. They are monotasking as a speaker.

So what happens in all those examples is your mind is splitting into different timelines. Making the salad, one aspect of you is in the present and one aspect is in tomorrow. Or running the seminar, one aspect is in the present, but most of you is forty-five minutes from now. Or, speaking to a group, one aspect is in the present, and one is 2 months ago, or you’re listening to an inner critic instead of listening to your audience as you speak.

It’s like 1 foot in one timeline and the other foot in the other timeline. There are two timelines going at once, sometimes more. Inner timelines and outer ones. Our minds are powerful, but if we let them run amok, they’ll go all over the place like an untrained puppy.

Maybe you’ve experienced the phenomenon of flitting back and forth between, past, present and future say when talking to a group of people.  Someone new to the meeting says something, and they remind you of your dad who is no longer alive, and then you jump a decades back to your last interaction. And then someone on the meeting laughs and it jolts you back to the present. And then you jump into the future, because you see the meeting going overtime, so you’re secretly trying to message the person you’re supposed to meet. Then, someone criticizes you for not paying attention, which triggers the survival brain into being back in the present moment. You apologize. But as soon as the danger is over, you go back to jumping timelines again.

Of course, many of us are jumping timelines like that often. You might even be thinking, heck, that’s a typical day for me. But, it’s just good to know the costs, and what happens inside your mind, body system when you do that. Because you do have choice about how you want to train and focus your attention. Your attention is your most valuable resource. Whatever you focus on grows. Sometimes that focus gives good results, sometimes not so good results.

In contrast, think of a time when you fully focused your attention. Often people are completely absorbed when doing something creative such as drawing, painting, writing, singing, playing music or something that required your full attention because it was a mind-body coordination thing…like play a high-speed game of hockey, or tennis, or basketball, or dancing across the floor with a partner. Most people say they love those activities, they say they are fun, they feel energized afterwards, they look forward to it. Mostly that’s because it forces you to be present, in one timeline, in the here and now, and that creates a huge sense of inner congruence, inner peace, inner alignment that settles the whole nervous system, and aligns you to a strong sense of personal power, because everything’s flowing in one direction.

Back to the Zen example. The disciple didn’t like the answer that Zen is doing one thing at a time. He figured it was a lot more complicated than that. The disciple said, I’m going to look for another monastery and another master unless you can give me a fuller answer. And the Zen master said, Zen is attention.     That’s it? The disciple was looking for something more complex, huge mental concepts. But the Zen master was attempting to help him break through mental concepts. Because the answer to all that you are, the answer to the secrets of the universe, is that the microcosm of the macrocosm. As above so below. The answer to all of the secrets of the universe are not to be found through conceptual thinking. What conceptual thinking can do is relatively little. And human evolution has now reached a critical stage where we cannot further develop based on refining conceptual thinking. We’ve come to the end of the road of conceptual thinking, rational, linear, logical, technical explanations for things. These are all just representations and not felt real time aligned experience.

So conceptual thinking is putting words together in different ways. But there are a limited number of letters in the alphabet, and a limited number of sounds that can come out of the voice, and a limited number of ways you can put together words in a book, or on a computer screen. We’ve been living in the information age, actually before computers and Internet, but now were moving into another age. We are on information overload, and more information actually clogs up the mind, splinters the mind, and renders us inert at a certain level. What’s required now is meaning. What does it all mean? This requires synthesizing multidimensional levels of information using the mind, emotions, body, spirit, ether and distilling it down into something that helps you and others evolve. That’s a whole other intense skill set that requires what the Zen master said – all cylinders firing in one direction, on one timeline, in other words focused attention.

Because the opposite is what’s happening now, where you have 33 windows open on your computer, and you go from one page to the other, then to your phone, then to your tablet, then answer the door, and go to the bathroom, taking your phone with you in case you miss an important text. And the more you scatter your focus like that

the more your efficiency goes down. You get completely scattered human attention, which degrades your personal power. The average adult attention span used to be around seven minutes about 30 years ago. A person could completely focus their attention for a good seven minutes before taking a mental break, going into the past, or the future or getting distracted by something else going on around them. Now, I’ve heard it’s more like 20 seconds.

So human evolution is not to completely abandon conceptual thinking, but to be able to use conceptual thinking without being trapped in it. It’s where you own it, it doesn’t own you. You can transcend it, go beyond it, but it’s still there. You can use it, like a tool when necessary.

So the true cost of multitasking isn’t just that it lowers productivity, but it impacts your mental, emotional, spiritual health… And your evolution. Now I know some people say that multitasking actually makes them more productive, and given their circumstance, it’s the only way to get through the day. I get that, and I do that too. And there’s a certain mental gymnastics involved that can be helpful to build, like building a muscle. Because sometimes we just have to multitask. Said I’m not saying never do it, but pay attention too when you are doing it, to your detriment, when you don’t actually need to be.

If you study psychological tests on multi-tasking you’ll find that several researchers say it actually makes you more productive, that the time it takes to stop doing one task and focus on another is best measured in milliseconds. But in studying myself and helping several clients who are addicted to multitasking, I can’t agree with that, unless the tasks are very simple, you know the kind of task you do in your sleep. A more accurate study says that it takes 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption. It comes for research study conducted by Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke. In the study, 48 participants had one main task to focus on, but they were also directed to deal with other tasks as they came in, such as interruptions from email.

When interrupted an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds passed between the moment of interruption and the point where participants resumed working on the main task. So the 23 minutes isn’t the amount of time it takes to refocus after switching task, it includes the time it takes to complete the task that interrupted you.

And although a 23 minute pause due to an interruption isn’t an insignificant amount of time, the researchers discovered something interesting. The people who were interrupted managed to complete their main tasks in less time than people who weren’t interrupted. They surmise that when people are constantly interrupted, they develop a motive working faster to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted. That’s part of why multitasking can often make you feel stressed out.

Say, you said you were going to work on your book for two hours, but you get a notification that an email came in, and instead of ignoring it you read it, you respond to it and that takes 15 minutes. Then it takes you five minutes to get back into your book. But now you’re feeling a bit agitated because you just took 20 minutes out of your two hours that you were going to focus on the book. Guilt, maybe even shame, frustration can start to affect your ability to concentrate, self judgment, and then your focus is split again. If you just stayed completely focused for two hours, not allowing notifications, or anyone interrupting you, you would have come out of that two hours feeling better Palmer proud of yourself, less frustration, more at ease, unlikely your writing would be better because you were entirely focused.

So interrupted work might be done faster, because you start to rush to catch up, but it’s not a price. You may feel more stress, frustration, workload, and pressure. And you are less likely to feel as though you were productive if you let interruptions get in the way. On the other hand you’re likely to be in a better mood if you allowed yourself to stay focused.

So here are 6 tips to help you single-task, or monotask.


  1. Here’s the first one about notifications. Don’t allow notifications, unless it’s something you really need to be notified about. And in that case, some apps like Daywise allow you to batch notifications at a time that you specify, but also allowing in certain ones that could bypass the batching, like from your child’s school or your boss. Now this may be a bit radical for some people, but I literally have my phone, tablet, computer turned completely off during certain hours of the day…8 pm to 8 am. I certainly would never keep a device in my bedroom on and lighting up during those hours.
  2. The second is about email. Boomerang, an extension for Gmail and Outlook that lets you set up a delivery schedule for when emails are delivered to your inbox, and when emails are sent. As I said before, where the monotasking approach would be to separated small, quick low priority tasks like email into one time of the day…doing a batch at a time.
  3. The third is about exploring your underlying thoughts. Use journaling or a self coaching process. For example, we offer the AVARA Model in our book MindStory Inner Coach to help explore mindsets that keep you wanting to multi-tasking. You can see a link in the shownotes or on our FREE tab at MindStoryAcademy.com. Here are typical beliefs and attitudes that keep people multi-tasking even when the cost is high. 1) feeling like you’re going to miss out if you don’t check on social media messages regularly. 2) Worried that people will be disappointed or frustrated if you don’t get back to them right away. 3) Wanting to distract yourself constantly so you don’t have to feel feelings that need processing. If you don’t look at them, process them, see what wisdom might be there for you, that can mean mental, emotional or physical issues down the line. By exploring these deeper beliefs, attitudes, concerns, habits of mind that run you, that are more subconscious, you might find that they don’t actually serve you or don’t make much logical sense, or unlock something important for you to understand. Maybe you’ll discover that life will be fine if you wait to check on things, if you wait to get back to people. Maybe you’ll discover that this gnawing anxiety is about your wellness being compromised, leading to something with bad consequences if you don’t address it now. Maybe you’ll discover that this underlying discomfort is about needing to rethink a really big aspect of life, and that if you don’t you’ll miss out on an important new direction for your life.
  4. The fourth is about communication with others – I realize some people are on call, or need to be available to bosses, clients or loved ones, but really think through how to create some boundaries around when people can reach you, at least during some periods of time, otherwise you’re simply a slave to other people’s agendas. For example, can someone tag team you when it comes to looking after others, give part of the load to someone else? Can someone act as a buffer between you and people who want to contact you, like an assistant, a virtual assistant, who can decide what’s important and what isn’t? Can you tell certain people that you’re just not available during certain hours of the day unless it’s an emergency? Tell them it’s for your well being, not because you don’t care about them or their situations. If it’s face to face interruptions, can you tell people nearby when you want to focus, like, not to be interrupted during certain times. Or, put something on your door requesting people don’t interrupt you unless it’s an emergency from 1-3 pm, for example.
  5. The fifth is about your choices when it comes to especially mundane or repetitive tasks, like daily tasks or activities. Try doing one thing at a time. It might seem irritating, awkward or unusual at first, but just fold the laundry without talking on the phone, and just completely focus on folding in the best way possible. Going for a walk and not listening to anything, just taking in the scenery and the sounds. Really listening to someone, giving them your full attention, even if you think you know what they’re going to say.
  6. The sixth and final is make a game of it. If you find your mind wandering while you are making the salad, imagine it’s the first time you’ve ever made a salad. You marvel at how you can cut the salary with the knife in different kinds of ways. And you think about how you can be even more efficient with how you deliver the salary into the bowl, or how creative you can get in how you arrange the vegetables in the bowl, just for fun. Just to practice doing tasks you’ve done 1000 times before as if you’re doing it for the first time, and just see if new ideas come to mind, new skills, see if the salad actually tastes better than when you do it in a multitasking state. Be like a child exploring the world. Remember a time you watched a small child as they discovered a door handle and how it could actually turn one way and the other. Or remember a time you discovered something for the first time, that now you consider commonplace like driving a car.

So, do check out MindStory Inner Coach book to get your copy of the AVARA model. It’s at the bottom of the free tab of mindstoryacademy.com.

So I’ll leave you with this thought on attention. The quality of one’s life depends on the quality of attention. Whatever you pay attention to will grow more important in your life. It will give back to you in seen and unseen ways, for good or for bad depending on how you focus your mind. If you focus on all the ways you have a great life, you’ll get more of that. If you focus on all the ways you don’t have a great life, you’ll get more of that. If you feel agitated because your attention keeps shifting too much, you’ll miss out on the flow, the synchronicity and power of being focused in the moment. There is no limit to the kinds of changes that the simple act of attention can produce in your life. It’s a superpower. Use it with wisdom and courage.

That’s it for today. Thank you for listening

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