Uni-tasking

Uni-tasking

Many people would consider themselves to be good at multi-tasking. I would like to think I am not the first person in the world who has every brushed their teeth while blow drying their hair and finishing up a reading to save a few minutes in the morning before an 8 am class. Our culture is becoming more quickly-paced and task driven than ever before. Many graduate students are often rewarded for multitasking, and in fact many of us probably got into graduate school in no small part for our ability to manage a demanding schedule. However, if there is one thing that the rates of texting-related accidents has taught us it’s that we – and I include myself in that – think that we are better multi-taskers that we actually are.

Now I am not going to say that we should never attempt to do to more than one thing at a time. For example, research suggests that engaging in a low level cognitive task can actually aid in higher level thinking and cognitive processes, such as some people note that they can pay more attention and retain more information for a complex lecture while doodling or scribbling. While graduate students may have a strong ability to multitask, I would argue that many of us – again, me included – need to work on our ability to uni-task.

Speaking from my own experiences, I grew up in a culture and environment of instant results, instant gratification, and over-stimulation. As such, I am used to getting what I want, when I want it (well, actually, I want it ten minutes before I even know I want it), and I am going to be checking my email, texting, and impatiently tapping my foot while I wait. While we could have a discussion about the social changes that have led to a culture of multi-tasking and sit here and blame video games and HD movies, I doubt that our culture is suddenly going to go back to the good ole days where life was so much simpler.

The fact is our culture is what it is, and we do not have much ability to change that. We can, however, change our own behaviors. Practice doing only one thing at a time. For example, if you are reading for class, then focus all of your attention – to the best of your ability – on what you are reading. As your mind begins to wonder away from the task at hand, as it inevitably will try to do, notice your mind wander and shift your attention back to the task at hand. Notice that I used the word “practice.” This was intentional, because focusing on only one task at a time is difficult for the many of us who have been programmed to do a million things at a time. Over time, as you continue to practice, you will likely find yourself better at maintaining and controlling your focus on your current task.

While there are times when we have to multitask, such as when we are checking our rear-view mirror, monitoring cars around us, adjusting the speed of our car in order to safely change lanes while driving, there are other times in which multitasking only reduces the quality of all of the tasks we are trying to accomplish. By practicing uni-focusing, you will be amazed and how much quicker and of better quality we can accomplish tasks one at a time.

 

 

 

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Comments 6

thephillyfan on Thursday, 13 June 2013 13:48

I can definitely relate! I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a rush and trying to do 100 things at once. However, I am the worst person I know at multitasking :(
Some of my friends can listen to music, have people taking in the background, and still study, but I cannot handle any noise/distractions without losing focus.
Do you have any tips for focusing, besides practice?

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I can definitely relate! I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a rush and trying to do 100 things at once. However, I am the worst person I know at multitasking :( Some of my friends can listen to music, have people taking in the background, and still study, but I cannot handle any noise/distractions without losing focus. Do you have any tips for focusing, besides practice?
JohnM on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 12:36

I think the best thing you can do is find what works for you. I wish I had a more concrete answer, but some many people are different. For me, I find that practicing yoga, meta meditation, and engaging in mindfulness practices to help me in my focusing skillls. But I also work best with quite instrumental music ;-)

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I think the best thing you can do is find what works for you. I wish I had a more concrete answer, but some many people are different. For me, I find that practicing yoga, meta meditation, and engaging in mindfulness practices to help me in my focusing skillls. But I also work best with quite instrumental music ;-)
efox on Monday, 17 June 2013 11:59

Thanks @JohnM, this is a subject I've been thinking about for a while, and I completely agree with the fact that we need to work on our focus of single tasks. Multitasking has its own time and place. I've noticed a decrease in my ability to read even a couple pages of a book since being a kid. I do think it stems from technology's affect on the ever-increasing instant gratification culture. People are always checking their texts, advertisements are meant to catch your attention and hyperlinks are included in articles to direct you to a website even if you aren't done reading that one. I think concentrating without distractions on one task can benefit the person by possibly gaining more knowledge and retaining more.
Besides sitting down to read without distractions, do you have any other ideas on how to practice uni-tasking? What other kinds of activities are better off done as uni-tasks?

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Thanks @JohnM, this is a subject I've been thinking about for a while, and I completely agree with the fact that we need to work on our focus of single tasks. Multitasking has its own time and place. I've noticed a decrease in my ability to read even a couple pages of a book since being a kid. I do think it stems from technology's affect on the ever-increasing instant gratification culture. People are always checking their texts, advertisements are meant to catch your attention and hyperlinks are included in articles to direct you to a website even if you aren't done reading that one. I think concentrating without distractions on one task can benefit the person by possibly gaining more knowledge and retaining more. Besides sitting down to read without distractions, do you have any other ideas on how to practice uni-tasking? What other kinds of activities are better off done as uni-tasks?
JohnM on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 12:40

As I mentioned back to thephilly fan, a big part of my focusing is very much spiritual for me rooted in Zen Bhuddist philosophies and mindfulness. There are a million mindfulness practices that you can find online that I would highly recomend. I warn you though, mindfulness practices in many ways incongruent with Western culture, so it might feel really awkward at first. But I promise, as you stick with it, it will become more comforatable and natural.

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As I mentioned back to thephilly fan, a big part of my focusing is very much spiritual for me rooted in Zen Bhuddist philosophies and mindfulness. There are a million mindfulness practices that you can find online that I would highly recomend. I warn you though, mindfulness practices in many ways incongruent with Western culture, so it might feel really awkward at first. But I promise, as you stick with it, it will become more comforatable and natural.
zmirtsching on Wednesday, 19 June 2013 14:01

I completely agree! I feel like I have been texting, facebook posting and tweeting all while trying to attempt a million other tasks. We really do grow up in a society that now puts a lot of emphasis on finishing everything quickly.

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I completely agree! I feel like I have been texting, facebook posting and tweeting all while trying to attempt a million other tasks. We really do grow up in a society that now puts a lot of emphasis on finishing everything quickly.
JohnM on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 12:41

And trying to un-learn the multi-task thinking can be just as hard.

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And trying to un-learn the multi-task thinking can be just as hard.

PhDStudent