The Magic of Doing 1 Thing at a Time

by Tera Tuten on December 11, 2012

I’ve got a magic trick for you…Ready?

Today, I’m going to increase my productivity just by willing myself to do so…The secret?

It’s quite possible that, rather than making your rounds more efficient, multitasking is most likely keeping you from operating at optimal efficiency.

A recent Stanford University study reported in 2009 that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of information don’t pay attention (stop reading that site in another tab, keep reading here!), remember or switch from one task to another as well as staff who complete one task at a time.

So why does this happen? Why is our dream of doing more by doing it all at once a fallacy?

Anatomy of a multitask

Many studies agree that you can do more than one thing at a time, most agree that trying to do even two things at once splits your attention 50/50 at best, accomplishing no more than you would have if you’d done things one thing at a time.

That’s because when faced with two tasks, your brain’s medial prefrontal cortex divides so half of the region focuses on task #1 and the other half on task #2. This division of labor lets you to keep track of two tasks, but if you throw in a third, things go south pretty quick.

While a computer may be able to juggle tasks you set it to do in 5, 6 maybe even 7 or more programs before getting noticeably bogged-down, you start to grind to a halt with three or more tasks, guaranteed.

Diminishing returns

The problem with switching back and forth between tasks is that your brain is forced to change its “thought context” constantly, which can make you more prone to mistakes and slow you down.

In other words, the more things you try to juggle, the less attention you’ll be giving to each task.

And that’s when mistakes start to creep in to your seemingly-firing-on-all-cylinders routine.

Ironically, many studies have found that those who multitask the most are worse at multitasking than those who focus on just a few tasks at once…In other words the more you multitask, the worse you’re going to get at multitasking.

Multitasking is often associated with declining task and project completion rates and revenue generation.

The magic of “monotasking”

Instead of multitasking, say some productivity experts, try “monotasking”.

Monotasking – or, duh, doing only one thing at a time – will likely make you more productive fairly quickly than in your extreme multitasking days.

In the case of texts and emails coming in while you’re tending to patients, success can come in how you manage that technology, instead of just yielding to its constant siren call: Stopping just once to answer such messages can set you back up to 20 minutes in terms of the time it takes to get re-focused on the task you were doing before you hit ‘Reply’.

Tips for monotasking in your hospital:

  • focus on listening patients when they’re speaking with you, they will feel appreciated and respected
  • check e-mails and texts no more than once an hour (of course this does not apply to pages or any other time-sensitive work-related network messages)
  • take the time to read things all the way through: the tendency to skim information makes it harder to go beyond what’s presented to you…which is important for both patient care and career advancement

More on the drawbacks of multitasking:

More on the benefits of “monotasking”:


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