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When Distraction Calls, Answer With 'Monotasking'

Multitasking is one of those fun business buzzwords you put on your résumé so that potential employers can realize how competent you are. It’s become something of a badge of honor to say with confidence that you can juggle multiple projects at once (see: watching Facebook videos and combing through your email while taking lecture notes).

It’s not unusual given the society we live in, where hustle and bustle is the norm. We try to do everything at once, but it turns out that we’re not really accomplishing anything much at all.

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Recent studies have shown the ineffectiveness of multitasking and, more consequentially, its dangers. The problem with multitasking, according to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, is that “our brains are not wired to multitask well.” Which is to say that we’re not actually doing multiple tasks at once, we’re just quickly switching from task to task.

Finishing each small task releases dopamine, our reward hormone that encourages us to continue completing these miniscule tasks for instant gratification, despite the fact that they are of little significance.

Multitasking is also said to reduce efficiency and performance since the brain can only truly focus on one thing at a time. Furthermore, a study conducted at the University of London found that multitasking is detrimental to one’s IQ. According to the study, “IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.”

Lo and behold the idea of monotasking--a word that describes being able to do one task at a time, now a feat in our digital era. It is the ability to resist the urge to do something else, like listen to music or check social media. Often, students have difficulty keeping focus on one undertaking; many students find themselves checking their newsfeeds or taking Buzzfeed quizzes intermittently as an enticing distraction from the studying at hand.

“I don’t really know why,” said Mary Morrison, LSOE ‘18, “but I feel like I need to be doing something with my hands like scrolling, even when I am watching something.”

Others echoed sentiments that were very true to the psychology behind multitasking.

“When I feel like I’m at a standstill with one task, or feel that the work that I should be doing is boring, I try to accomplish a different task such as checking my e-mail and Facebook because those are easily completed,” said Gao Liu, MCAS ‘18, “When you feel like you can’t progress further, like running out of ideas for an essay, the downturn makes you want to divert your attention to something that can be easily accomplished.”

Is all hope lost for those whose minds wander so easily? Not so.

Some people find the cure in meditation or physical and mental exercises, both known to increase focus. One study showed that physical activity increased cognitive control. For students, taking notes by hand also forces you to pay attention and listen actively, rather than mindlessly transcribing what is said.

Another method is to prioritize; by identifying your top (but few) priorities and having a clear vision for the day, you can take on those tasks in a productive manner without cluttering your mind with multiple small tasks. As T. Boone Pickens says, “When you are hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits."

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