People tend to overestimate their ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, but we’re surprising ineffective at doing so. While we may think we are being more productive by managing our emails, phone calls, and writing a report while dinner is in the oven, we’re actually creating multiple distractions that take away from each individual task. And if this is the case for everyone, just imagine how much truer that would ring for people with ADHD.
More so now then ever, people say to switch your focus towards monotasking, that is, to dedicate 100% of your concentration on one task at a time in order to increase productivity by avoiding procrastination that arises from distraction.
That is not to say that multi-tasking does not have its place, and in some cases it is actually necessitated, for parents with ADHD for example. But what tasks are best combined into multitasking and which should you take solo?
Multitasking vs Monotasking
Not all activities are created equal, with some activities being more easily completed along side others. Tasks that are better to multitask are ones that are physical rather than mental – even more so if a fixed amount of time is involved. Some examples include:
- Childcare – When taking care of children, you have to be present for a set amount of time that most of the time you can’t make shorter.
- Chores – Most household chores require little thought, but rather just dedicated physical activity.
- Commuting – Do you take public transport to work? Take advantage of the time to organize your schedule. Drivers can listen to audio books. Or best of all, reap the mental benefits of exercise and ride a bike or walk to the office!
The great thing about activities such as these is that there is minimal risk of adding in an additional activity along side it.
Tasks like commuting or exercising work well with audio books, allowing you to occupy your mind while you’re physically engaged with other things. Other activities such as childcare or reception work can allow you to be mentally or creatively active with tasks such as knitting, or note taking.
That said, there are certainly times when taking on too many does more harm then good. In these cases, monotasking, rather than multitasking, is the most effective method to choose. Monotasking is the better choice when a tasks requires focus and the main determinant of completion time is you. Examples include:
- Writing an essay, paper, or report for school or work.
- Reading a book – although you can play audio books faster, speed reading is often the more efficient alternative.
- Research – whether it is online or on paper.
In all three of these cases, trying to multitask may only serve to slow you down and delay completion. If you have to use the internet to complete any of these tasks (in full or in part), it is all too easy to become distracted by Pinterest, Twitter, or emails.
Tips for Monotasking
Given that a majority of our time working is spent on the computer either conducting research on ADHD itself or implementing our findings into neurocognitive training apps, we are often faced with this distraction ourselves. One trick that we have found worked well as creating a new user for a computer that was restricted in what they could do – no social networks and no emails. That way, we eliminated the distractions before we get started.
Other tips that can help out are:
- Set time limits – Try using the Pomodoro Technique: working for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. You can learn more about it here.
- Keep track of your focus – recognize when you initially have thoughts or urges such as email checking, or self-reminders for later in the day. Concentrate on the task at hand.
- Minimize distractions – Conquering your own impulsivity or attention deficit is one thing, but it can hardly be put to good use if you’re continuously distracted from outside. Shut down your phone and close that Facebook tab!
- Externalize your internal chatter – a lot of the time thoughts such as “I need to buy milk” pop into your head. Instead of dedicating more thought than that to that particular activity, jot it down on a piece of paper to rid yourself of it until you’re able to complete it.
Staying focused in our information age is no easy task, even more so when you have ADHD. Take advantage of multitasking when you’re able to do so, but recognize when monotasking is the more efficient alternative.