Productivity Students

Monotasking and Multitasking for Students

August 30, 2016

I have heard a lot of talk recently about monotasking and multitasking and which is better for students. Monotasking involves focusing on one thing at a time, where multitasking involves, you guessed it, focusing on multiple things at the same time. After some research, I found out that it’s not a case of one size fits all. Some people work better when they are working on fifty different things. Others find it easier to be productive by putting their focus into one task entirely.

monotasking

Students are constantly swamped by a number of due dates, events and errands. We are also prone to distractions, particularly of the electronic kind (I’m talking about those Snapchat notifications!). Since keeping up with the workload at university can be a struggle, the question that comes up a lot, is “what’s the best way to get everything done?”. It’s a matter of being productive, and you have to figure out whether you are more productive when you keep your focus or switch it. We’ll take a look at the details of monotasking and multitasking, and you can try them out and decide which is better suited for you.

Multitasking

Multitasking is defined as the practice of performing multiple tasks at the same time. Most people don’t really multitask in that way. Let’s face it, it’s actually really hard to write notes while on the phone and trying to send an email. Now, it’s all about task switching. We move in sequence from one task to another. It is a great way to juggle a variety of tasks at the same time. The idea is that you are working on lots of different things, so you can get through more. This can work very well, but you need to be able to efficiently switch between tasks. Multitasking is not synonymous with busy. You may be busy, that is, you might have a lot of stuff to do, but stressful multitasking or overloading yourself can be detrimental to productivity.

The aim of multitasking is to complete more. Being on Facebook while you are listening to a lecture is not productive multitasking. Putting in a load of laundry, then working on an assignment, then taking the laundry out to dry is productive multitasking. It’s important to distinguish between a distracting task and an important task. Task switching can stop you from becoming bored or distracted from what you are a working on. It’s like pressing a little refresh button in your mind. If you start by writing some notes then you switch to calling your Mum, when you come back to the notes after stepping away from them, you may find that you have a renewed focus.

It does not come without dangers. Multitasking can slow down task completion, it is prone to distractions and a study even found electronic multitasking can cause a decrease in IQ equivalent to losing a night’s sleep. For this reason, if you are planning to multitask, try and break up the electronic tasks with something away from a screen. It’s also a good idea to prioritize and plan before you start. Sometimes we can move on to other tasks that we think of spare of the moment, and forget about the more urgent ones.

Monotasking

Monotasking is the practice of focusing completely on one task at a time. This is very beneficial for completing tasks and getting through a to do list. Reading a book, for example, without phone distractions is monotasking. Making flashcards for a class is monotasking. No background television, no quick check of the emails or Facebook messages. Just one activity to focus on. By doing this, we aren’t overloading our mind with other activities and thoughts, and we can devote all attention to it, resulting in an improved quality of work. Without switching to anything else it’s more likely that the task will be completed in a shorter time. Then you can move on to the next thing.

Monotasking doesn’t mean “work on something for as long as it takes to complete it”. It simply means that you should focus only on one thing. So don’t try studying for a test for 6 hours straight. Know when to take a break, stretch your legs, get something to eat. Just like multitasking, stepping away from your task can refresh your mind, so when you go back to it you can continue to be productive.

Monotasking has it’s disadvantages as well. Sometimes working on a bigger or time consuming task can take time away from other activities. It’s easy to lose track of time when you are working in a completely focused way. For this I recommend a clear to do list (with prioritised tasks), and setting a timer so you become aware of how much time you are using. It’s also handy for giving yourself a break. Focus on completing important or urgent tasks first and you will feel more accomplished at the end of the day (even if you didn’t get to the smaller, less urgent tasks).

And that’s it! Monotasking and multitasking are basically opposites but there are similarities in the ways that we can use them. You may prefer one over the other or a hybrid of both. Whilst I occasionally multitask, I find it quite stressful to switch what I’m doing all the time. I really love monotasking. I think it has something to do with making lists and crossing things off, but working on one thing and seeing it to completion motivates me to get more done. For assignments and studying, I find it particularly helpful to focus purely on the work I’m doing.

How do you like to work? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Great post! I think I’m more of a monotasker (is that even a word? haha), but sometimes I’ll be more productive when multitasking. I think it all depends on the tasks you have to accomplish!
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