unitasking. Noun. (uncountable) Doing a single thing at a time.
To increase your productivity, mental wellbeing, and to decrease your sense of overwhelm or exhaustion, master the concept of unitasking.
We as humans cannot multitask. We cannot concentrate on two things at once. So, can you fold laundry and watch Netflix? Absolutely. Neither of which takes a lot of concentration.
When you think you are multitasking with anything that requires concentration, you are simply rapidly switching between two tasks. There is a ‘cognitive tax’ or a ‘refractory period’ lost every time you switch. You are not doing two things at once, you are doing two things ineffectively and often poorly.
We have all experienced someone texting on their phone as you speak with them. You pause to get to seek their attention, they look up and say “go on, I am listening”.
I assure you, they are not.
In a study done by the International Journal of Information Management (1), researchers looked at how long it takes to recover when you switch to look at an email, then back to the task, you were trying to complete. On average, an office worker in this study would receive an email every 5 minutes and it would take on average 64 seconds to make that switch back to their original task. You are losing over a minute with this disruption every, single time!
Unitask where you can. Do one thing, then move on to the next task.
Directing your attention back to the dinner table
Another great example is someone stopping work to eat dinner with their family. They know the connection and time with their family is important but they are still thinking about work. They are neither getting the connection with their family, nor accomplishing anything with their work. They are doing two things terribly.
The ability to unitask can help you focus, accomplish more with your time, deepening the connection you have with others, help you when you have a sense of overwhelm or stress and the list goes on.
You cannot concentrate on two things at once.
Do one thing at a time.
For more tips on how to get started, read our blog post: “PAY ATTENTION: Attention is our currency.”
1. Jackson, T., Dawson, R, & Wilson, D. (2003). Reducing the effect of email interruptions on employees. International Journal of Information Management, 23(1), 55-65.