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COLUMN: Bring back monotasking

I’m a great multitasker: I can check Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and my email, all while doing a reading for class.

I say that in jest, mostly because my multitasking generally results in a protracted — and unnecessary — amount of time spent on homework. The art of monotasking has disappeared as of late, but everyone could benefit from reintegrating into their lives.

I believe that monotasking — or focusing on just one task at a time — is a skill that most of us possessed pre-cell phones and pre-social media.

In an age where there’s always another tab to open, site to browse and app to fire up, it’s so easy to get distracted from what you’re supposed to be focusing on.

I’m certainly guilty of falling down the social media wormhole while reading an article for class. It’s so tempting to pull up Instagram when you just simply can’t read another paragraph of dry text. Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed to consider the amount of times I’ll probably get distracted while writing this column.

Perhaps the problem is in the name. “Multitasking” sounds much more productive than “I was reading this book for class but then I took a 30 minute detour on Twitter.” Maybe, then, we’re deceiving ourselves and we’ve just forgotten how to devote our full attention to something.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that a two-to-three second lapse in attention was enough to cause a person to double the mistakes they made while trying to complete a task.

Information overload is certainly a related problem, too. Throughout the day, we encounter all sorts of articles, tweets and texts, all begging for our attention. I often feel mentally exhausted after toggling back and forth between a paper I’m writing and my Twitter feed.

I often long for the days before social media had expanded into the attention-demanding behemoth it is today — that is, my middle school years. I would curl up on the couch and read a book from cover to cover, only pausing to grab a quick snack.

I can’t remember the last time I did that, and that saddens me immensely. Now, the process of reading a book is always punctuated by glances at my phone to check my texts or social media. It takes me much longer to read a book and the physical process of it isn’t as satisfying, somehow.

If you’re anything like me, you’re tired of this feeling. So let’s resolve to do something about it.

Let’s leave our phones and laptops in a different room if they aren’t necessary for the task at hand. Let’s delete all of our social media apps if necessary. Let’s close our emails, resolve to check them only once or twice a day, and stick to it.

In other words, let’s rediscover what it means to monotask, to devote ourselves wholly to one thing until it’s complete. I think we’ll find it much more fulfilling, more productive and less exhausting than multitasking.

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