Single tasking in a multiscreen world

Picture me: it’s a Sunday. It’s cold and icy outside and I’m watching my favourite programme on Netflix. But I’m not – because I also have my laptop open on a page about something work-related that I’ve been meaning to do all week. And actually, I am on Whatsapp to a friend at home about her weekend. To rephrase Madonna: we are living in a multi-screen world, and I am a multi-screen girl.

So why do I even have the TV on? And the laptop open? I am just one lady and – despite what has been said about the female ability to multi-task – I can only do one thing at a time. I only gotz two hands.

The phrase was coined in the 60s, but multi-tasking was an 80s baby. I like to think it piggy-backed into our world on the leatherette-back of digital personal organisers and power suits. Multi-tasking is alpha and pro-active. Multi-tasking is busy. It’s impressive.

Isn’t it?

I was inspired to try ‘single tasking’. It’s not not multi-tasking, but the focus is on it’s head. Do one thing at a time, with no distraction.

Here’s what I have started to do:

Obviously, as a human, I’ve been intermittently good and rubbish at it. But when it’s good, it really does feel good. Here’s what I have noticed the small effort does:

Bonus effect number four is that I find I’m more aware of if I need down time. And then I take it – and enjoy it.


The reason I’m writing about single-tasking here on a loosely-creativity-based blog is that I think it can help to clear your brain-clutter and release your creative muse. If the only time you sit and do one thing at a time is to make your art, your automatic habits are not used to it. If a block comes up, or a moment of stillness, you may find yourself reaching for your phone or turning on the TV to help distract your block and let the creativity flow again. If you re-train yourself to do one thing at a time, your artistic practice will follow. Perhaps your mind will wander less and you can focus more deeply and engage yourself for longer than before – without the fear that you could be missing something that multitasking would provide.

Secret bonus effect number five? It also makes you happier.

A TED Radio Hour episode, Simply Happy, shared incredible findings from a study around mindful productivity. It suggested that people are statistically less happy when their mind is wandering than when they are task focused. Doesn’t sound so crazy. But they go on to say that, at any time, a whopping average of 47% of minds are performing an activity with a distracted mind, and their theory is that the unhappiness is not the cause of their minds wandering during tasks, rather that it is a consequence of multi-tasking and non-mindful activity.

Single tasking. Try it out. Let me know how you get on…

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