One Step At A Time

Taking a Mono-Task Approach to Productivity


To do two things at once is – in reality – to do neither.   –Unknown


I have a dear friend who loves to call me when she’s washing dishes. Another always calls from the car on his commute home from work. Though I am embarrassed to admit it, I sometimes do the same.

It seems our days of doing just one thing are gone. As over-worked, over-involved, overwrought and time-undernourished beings, we perpetuate the myth of multi-tasking just to keep our heads even minimally above water. In reality, however, we’re actually serial tasking – shifting from one task to another in rapid succession. Even if we get more adept at shifting, that shift takes time in our brain based on the complexity of each task; so habitual multi-tasking really slows our brain down. According to research by Money magazine, multi-tasking has been proven to actually decrease our productivity by as much as 40%, and that’s not even the worst of it. In addition to poor performance and productivity, mistakes and blunders, we even endanger our safety and well being when we refuse to mono-task.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 report they had read or sent text or email messages while driving within the last 30 days.

We can use the same techniques necessary for maintaining high emotional intelligence – Awareness, Regulation, Management and Social Skills – to hone our focus and boost our mono-tasking capacity. Here are four steps to help you wrap you’re A.R.M.S. around mono tasking.



High emotional intelligence requires full attention to our feelings and those around us.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information,  the average human attention span – 8 seconds long – is actually  less than the attention span of a goldfish.

A goldfish has us beat by one second! Begin to build your attention span at home. Stop diminishing your attention by surfing the web, changing channels during every commercial break and reading with the television or music playing. Make it a daily habit to listen to one colleague with no distractions and increase the number every week. Read a book in silence. Eat meals away from the computer, phone or televisionso you can appreciate the tastes, textures and benefits of your meal.


Emotionally intelligent people are able to navigate feelings in productive, appropriate ways. Pilot your daily task list productively in 3 steps: First, prioritize your responsibilities according to need, deadline or importance. Second, select one task and set a reasonable time for it– one that you can stick to without doing anything else. Lastly, stick to your choice with full commitment until time is up. Then take a 5-minute break: move, listen to music, go outside and take some deep breaths or watch this for some inspiration from Hollywood before you move onto your next task. Set a reasonable number of tasks to tackle daily and then increase that every few weeks, as it gets easier.


Managing emotions requires careful, methodical practice and patience. Allow for a similar strategy to gain control and mono task successfully. In hospitals, doctors draw a curtain during patient interactions to promote privacy and focus while eliminating external distractions. Draw your own curtain at work by silencing your computer, turning off your phone, closing your office door or posting a “Quiet” or “Do Not Disturb” note at your cubicle. Boost efficiency 100% by cluster tasking: grouping related tasks into specific segments throughout your day. Create a morning, mid-afternoon and evening time slot to answer email, texts and social media and then do not deviate. Work on your calendar, appointments, travel and social plans at the close of your business day to gain clarity for the following day.


People with high emotional intelligence have the capacity to temporarily ‘park’ unnecessary or unproductive thoughts, feelings or reactions and address them when useful. Park your own distracting thoughts, unrelated ideas and imaginings onto a Post It and place it away from your current task at hand. Once you’ve finished your task, pull into the parking lot and see if you want to take a spin in one Post It topic. Why not cluster-task your thoughts and ideas too? Group similar topics, themes or ideas in one area or on different color Post Its!


Dropping the impulse to multi-task may feel tough at first. It may even be looked down upon, depending on your culture at work. However, with simple, small steps to build focus and attentiveness every day, your productivity will increase and to any organization that’s worth it’s weight in gold…fish.