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Productivity hacks: What is monotasking and how to practice it

If you are in a position to affect change in your office, demarcate blocks of time when no virtual meetings or calls can be scheduled. Plus, more hacks to promote focus on one task at a time.

November 27, 2021 / 04:37 PM IST
Getting a job done gives you a sense of achievement that in turn motivates you to complete more tasks - one at a time.

Getting a job done gives you a sense of achievement that in turn motivates you to complete more tasks - one at a time.

Monotasking is the opposite of multitasking. Instead of trying to juggle many tasks, monotasking encourages you to focus on just one task at a time. And when you focus on a single task at hand – even with the everyday unavoidable distractions like the doorbell ringing, the daydreaming, etc. – you are more likely to complete the job faster, more efficiently, and with fewer mistakes. This will free up your time for other tasks that need your attention.

Challenges to monotasking

Practising monotasking can be a challenge. Think about it. You’re done with your morning workout, had your breakfast, settled in your work-from-home (WFH) office when you see your friend’s post on Instagram; next thing you know, the first half of your day is gone.

But distraction needn’t always be due to an indulgence. Your attempts to monotask may also be derailed by a call from your boss who wants something done urgently, an email from your colleague that you want to reply to and close a matter, a WhatsApp message on your housing society group announcing a sudden water cut. Truth is that every single beep on your device can serve as a challenge to monotasking.

Also read: 5 ways to bounce back when you have had an unproductive morning

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How to monotask

You cannot control everything that happens around you. There will always be children to look after, lunch to be made, an email that needs answering urgently. The idea is to build a monotasking mindset, and here are some ways you can do that:

1. Identify your top two priorities

If you, like me, rely on to-do lists, there’s a good possibility that you have a long list of tasks for each day. Start by identifying the tasks you absolutely need to get done. In my case it would be completing 10,000 steps at the beginning of the day and writing out one column (like this one). Once I’m done with these tasks, I feel a sense of achievement, and this motivates me to complete others. While performing these tasks I am also able to give each of them my 100 per cent attention; this helps me to accomplish them more quickly and efficiently.

Also read: What is a productive break and how to take one?

2. Turn off social media

Admittedly, this is easier said than done and no one knows this better than journalists. As a lot, we train ourselves to stay on top of the latest happenings: whether it’s a terror attack, a political rally, or an internet meme. This makes it almost impossible for us to turn away from social media and news updates. But here’s the thing that most of us don’t get: we need not always be tuned in. Even in professions that require you to be hyper-connected – think stock broking, journalism, etc. – it is possible to turn off all the beeps, if only for a short time, and not be left behind. Make the most of those windows and turn off all notifications so you can focus on the task at hand.

3. Set deadlines

Just as you set up windows for social media blackouts, set up windows for your tasks; personal deadlines so to say. For instance: if you’re finishing a code, reading an annual report, writing an article, give yourself a reasonable amount of time during which you can complete it. It could be 45 minutes or two hours; the idea is to complete that task in that time. Setting a strict time window will help you achieve peak focus just as it did when you were writing your final exam papers back in school or college.

Also read: Non-zero day: What you can do today to become more productive

4. Set up a no-call time

As hybrid office and WFH gets more popular, certain organisations are setting up time blocks when no one is allowed to call each other. No virtual meetings can be scheduled during this time and while you are clocked in for the day, you needn’t be on calls. Your organisation may not be as progressive, and you may not be senior enough to avoid calls from your boss. But if you are a manager or someone in a position to affect change, encourage this within your team or organisation and respect it. This way not only can you get your stuff done in that window, your team can also follow suit.

5. Resist the temptation to respond to messages and emails immediately

Just like your tasks on the to-do lists, your messages and emails can also be prioritised. In this case, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a fresher or a CEO, mails – including those from your boss – needn’t always be addressed immediately. Instead of prioritising mails and messages in the order of who sent it (boss, client, colleague, family, etc.), prioritise it in the order of how urgent it is. For instance, a message from your colleague or family may require your immediate attention compared with one from your boss. Acknowledge that. Again, this will help you focus on your task at hand, complete it and then respond to your mails.

Monotasking isn’t easy. But the idea is to build habits that will automatically make it a part of your regular workday.
Abhishek Mande Bhot is a freelance journalist.
first published: Nov 27, 2021 04:21 pm
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