Modern life has turned us into obsessive multitaskers, but doing too many things at once could be making us less efficient. Here’s how learning to ‘monotask’ will help us stay stress-free and far more productive. 

Economic and societal pressure has increased our need, or at least our perceived need, to always be doing and striving for more.

The pressures of society and economics have increased our desire to be always doing more.

 Our lives seem to be getting busier and busier. The technology has infused every aspect of our daily lives. Our need to be constantly doing more and pushing ourselves further has been increased by economic and social pressures.

We might try to counterbalance this busy-ness and stress with mindfulness and yoga – but even making time for these is challenging. To live a balanced lifestyle, we need another method. Is there a better way? It’s time to stop multitasking and start monotasking. Focusing on one task at a given time will make us happier, less stressed and more productive.

But our constant state of ‘busy’ and reliance on devices has caused our monotasking muscles to atrophy. What number of times have you looked at your notifications on social media while eating lunch, or checked your email when answering a phone call? It is important to improve our ability to multitask by focusing on the tasks we do each day and putting in more effort. Turn the page to find out how…

 1. Read a book

Because we have to be focused on the task at hand, our brains as well as our eyes are in one spot, this is a great way to develop monotasking muscles. Only one thing that you can do, is to read this book. Otherwise you won’t be able to continue reading.

You have 20 minutes to read a book every day (on paper). The more consistent you are, the easier it will be for your mind to give the book its sole focus. It’s not about what you read; the act focuses your attention and is valuable in and of itself. Monotasking, in this sense is about focusing your attention.

For all the monotasks put your phone and devices out of sight  and turn off notifications

For all the monotasks put your phone and devices out of sight  and turn off notifications


2 Walk

Walking is often seen as an act of self-deprecation. What if walking was just for the joy of it? It focuses attention on our surroundings – what we see, hear and how the ground feels under our feet. 

You have 20 minutes to complete a monotasking walk every day. It is not for exercising. To get to point B. It is best not to walk your dog and make multiple calls at once. Walk alone if possible and without distractions (don’t listen to music or a podcast). Choose a route where you won’t be interrupted. If you pass people you know, just give them a nod or a wave, don’t stop to chat. You can leave your phone at home if it makes you feel secure, or simply switch to silent. Listen to the music in your surroundings.

Three Really Listen

It’s true that we are able to nod our heads while friends talk and simultaneously check our messages. But do we truly hear what they’re saying? Monotasking listens connects us with other people, activating our auditory and brain senses. We can connect infinitely better with other people when we monotask listen, and that makes us more successful in relationships and our personal lives.

You are required to practice one-way or two-way listening. Listen to a podcast or audiobook that’s not more than 20 minutes in length. Don’t treat it as a background – make the primary task to stay focused and not tune out.

Listening in two ways: Get a friend, relative, or colleague to join you for 20 minutes of conversation. When the other person speaks, you may be thinking ahead to what you’re going to say and this can override your listening. You can gently return your attention to the other person if this happens. Do not interrupt the conversation or talk over another person.

4 Sleep… properly

A lack of sleep is linked to increased risk for many ailments, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. It has many benefits for our daily lives. Monotasking improves your ability to focus, memory and mood.

The task is to learn how to go to bed. Do this daily, unlike the monotasks. You must get seven hours sleep each night. You should set aside 8 hours for bedtime. The extra hour helps you fall asleep faster and wake up in the middle. If you wake up at 7 a.m., get to bed no later than 11 p.m. Before you go to bed, turn off your devices for 30 minutes. Let go of any thoughts of today or tomorrow – write them down if you need to offload. Get rid of all thoughts and worries, and just focus on getting to sleep. Do not wake during the night. Be kind to yourself. Stay in bed, take deep breaths and do not reach for your phone – it switches your brain into multitasking mode.

5 Have a solo meal

It is an important activity, but it is too often ignored. We rush through meals because we need to get back to work, or we don’t pay attention to what we are eating because we’re looking at a device. Monotasking allows us to eat mindfully and pay attention only to what is on the plate.

The task is to eat alone, in silence. You will need to set aside 30 minutes for eating. Consider this a time to get together with your partner and enjoy a delicious meal. Appreciate your food – not just how it looks and smells, but where it came from. You should only take one bite and allow for 30 minutes to eat. Every time you have a thought that has nothing to do with the meal, keep your eyes on your task and your food. You’ll know you’ve mastered this monotask when you’re comfortable eating in silence.

6 Take a journey that you enjoy

Our tendency is to multitask when we travel, for both work and pleasure. Instead of trying to accomplish two things simultaneously, monotasking travel allows you to be present for the journey and enjoy it.

You have to recognize boredom and foster wonder. You can practice this skill by choosing a journey lasting around 20 minutes. You should pretend to be a passenger and not the driver so that you can fully focus on it. Try to enjoy the journey from one location to another. Don’t listen to music or the radio. Sit down. Pay attention to when it becomes boring and what that feels like. Next, take a longer journey than 20 minutes. Don’t do anything but enjoy the view and observe what you see.

7 Discover something New

Brains are always capable of learning new skills. However, it’s important for them to keep learning as they age. This helps avoid cognitive decline. Monotasking is a great way to learn, whether it’s to change careers, to increase our intellectual curiosity, or to improve our focus.

The task is to develop and execute a learning strategy. You can learn something in as little as 20 minutes, such counting up to ten in Japanese. Plan how you’ll do it. Next, think about the steps you’ll take to master it and then number them. You can return to the plan within hours or days. It is important to follow the plan and keep it. Both learning how to learn is the goal.

On a journey, just focus on enjoying the view and what you se

Enjoy the journey and enjoy the views.


8 Learn a skill

Teaching is one of the most effective ways to learn a skill. We approach something differently when we are teaching it.

It builds brain strength and a relationship with others. You will be able to master your skills and learn more by focusing all your attention on teaching.

The task is to teach another person how to monotask. You can invite a friend but don’t forget to put your device away. Explain monotasking. You will eventually be distracted. Set an alarm to wake you up 10 minutes later than planned. This can serve as a lesson point and allow you to demonstrate monotasking in practice.

9 Play

It is a way to let go of your intense concentration and relax your brains, as well as fully experiencing the world around you. Many adults don’t allow themselves time to play. We often feel guilty about taking time out for ourselves, or feel that we’re wasting our time by not playing enough. The act of playing takes you out of the daily grind and helps you to relax, bringing joy and alleviating your anxiety.

You have one task. Do something that makes you happy. Play should be the only goal. It is possible to choose an activity you are already passionate about, but keep it fun. Don’t choose an activity that requires a lot of thinking. Go outside. For example: go to the park, cycle, play miniature golf, read a book to your children and act it out, sing out loud and dance like nobody’s watching.

10 Explore the World

Our eyes help us navigate and make sense of the world, but we don’t see everything. Some people only want to see certain things, and others create their own vision. Monotasking allows us to focus our attention on the details, which can get lost in all of life’s visual clutter. It also helps us notice subtleties, complexity and nuance.

The task is to go for a short walk, but with your eyes. Take 20 minutes and go on a short walk. But this is not about the screen. Pay attention to the details, and see the whole picture. Take note of objects from different perspectives: trees, skytops, ground, and treetops. Try to see only what is visible and not expect too much.

11 Create something new

Monotasking is one of life’s most powerful monotasks. By focusing on the act of creating we are able to embrace the limitless potential of our individuality. It can improve your thinking ability and enhance the enjoyment of living.

You have one task. Write down ten ideas you have for a book, movie, or series. Or generate five ideas for what you could do if you weren’t so busy. For example, trips you want to take, or people you’d like to see. All your thoughts must be creative and positive.

12 Big Ideas

We are so busy thinking that it is hard to stop thinking. Monotasking helps us think differently and allows us the ability to focus on other things. This helps you to think clearly, and makes it easier for you to make smarter decisions.

Think about a large idea.

Spend ten minutes writing down your thoughts – whatever comes to mind when you think about this idea. It’s not about science, it’s about dedicating time to thinking and observing your thoughts. You can observe how your thinking processes change from taking in the major idea to considering what you will say.


 This is an edited extract from The Twelve Monotasks by Thatcher Wine, which is published by Yellow Kite, price £16.99. To order a copy for £14.44 until 7 February, go to or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.