Photo courtesy of Heather Hazzan/The Licensing Project
What Happens When You Stop Multitasking
Author Thatcher Wine discovered he got more out of life when he did it one thing at a time. He calls it “monotasking”: a practice in present-moment awareness that doesn’t ask you to shut your eyes and turn off your to-do list—and instead invites you to immerse yourself in whatever you’re up to right now.
Monotasking doesn’t require special training or tools, but don’t be surprised if it’s more challenging than you think. Wine’s book is a helpful guide, if you’d like some help getting started. His chapter on play—here’s an excerpt—is one of our favorites.
From The Twelve Monotasks: Do One Thing at a
Time to Do Everything Better
By Thatcher Wine
Now, more than ever, we all need to rest and recharge, and play is one of the most effective ways we can reset our bodies and our brains. Through play, we can get away from work physically and mentally.
We’ve often been taught that if we truly want to get somewhere in our lives, we have to work hard and stay focused on our goals. But what if the best way to get from Point A to Point B is to detour to rest stops much more frequently?
Everyone thinks work has to be all serious, that you can only meet in a conference room or over coffee. Work meetings can, and should, happen in places that inspire creativity and different ways of thinking—at the park, or a museum, for example—and include activities that get us out of our heads and away from our stress. A class at Stanford called “From Play to Innovation” is all about integrating play at work to fuel creativity and innovation.
There is also a common perception that play for adults equals sports. Play can be anything that takes your mind off everyday life and keeps it there while you reset, alleviating your anxiety and bringing you joy. Good old-fashioned board games are one way to do this—they have grown in popularity in recent years with a multitude of new games being launched, and classics becoming top sellers again.
David Sax writes about analog gaming—as compared to video gaming—in The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, explaining, “With analog gaming, whether it is an intricate board game or a child’s game of tag, all the players need to work together to create the illusion of the game. It requires a collective investment of your imagination in an alternate reality to believe that you actually own Park Avenue, and the colored slips of paper in your hands are worth something.” The benefits that come from monotasking your analog play—including developing focus, collaborating with others, and releasing your stress—are transferable to other parts of life.
If we work all the time, we get in a rut. We tend to become burned out, anxious, and depressed. When we make time for play, we can return to work or school or our creative pursuits refreshed and rejuvenated. Play is not a new invention, but in our fast-paced, overscheduled world, we need to remind ourselves to play, and may need to invent ways to play again.
Your Playing Monotask
Don’t Think, Just Play
For this task, you get to play! I’m going to leave it up to you to decide what sort of play.
If you already have a sport or a hobby you enjoy, feel free to do that. But take a new, playful approach. If you’re a runner, maybe try skipping during your run. If you’re a swimmer, get a float to relax, or jump into the pool like a kid.
For this task, try not to choose an activity such as chess that requires a lot of thinking, or anything extremely sedentary like working on a puzzle. Also, for now, avoid video games and anything that requires a device. These are all forms of play that you can return to later. The ideal setting for this monotask is outdoors, where you can move your body and feel the wind in your face.
If you’re in the city, go to the park. If you have kids, take them along. If you have a backyard, turn the sprinklers on and run through them. Don’t worry about what you look like playing, just play.
If you haven’t played or moved your body in a while, start with something reasonable—you don’t want to hurt yourself.
Now to get started:
Set aside at least twenty minutes to play, plus any time you need to get to and from your play area, and cleanup time.
Choose something you love to do or have wanted to do for a while.
Set yourself up with whatever you need for this activity: a bicycle, a basketball, your dog. You’re welcome to play with a friend; just make sure they know this is not a serious workout and you won’t be talking about the office. If the conversation requires you to think, then no talking is best.
Clear your mind and enjoy what you are doing.
If you start thinking about work, life, or anything stressful, acknowledge that thought and let it go. Don’t judge yourself—it happens to everyone and we can work on becoming less distracted while we play over time.
Be present and in the moment with your full body, mind, and soul.
Relax into how good it feels to be immersed in something completely. Let everything else in life melt away.
Smile. Laugh out loud.
Tell yourself, “I should do this more often.”
If your chosen activity isn’t fun for you, try something else. There are so many ways to play, and so many benefits. See the sidebar in this chapter for more ideas, and also check out monotasking.tips.
The Urge to Multitask
Play is most fun and effective when we can really immerse ourselves in it.
While you are playing, ideally you will be able to monotask without thinking about it. However, if you experience multitasking temptations and find it hard to resist them, consider exploring other forms of play that might better limit your distractions and help you fully engage with play. Choose something that is ridiculously fun, so much so that you don’t want to do anything else at the same time.
Most outdoor play activities allow for greater immersion and fewer interruptions than indoor options, but distractions still exist. While theoretically you can multitask on your phone while running, biking, hiking, fishing, and doing similar activities, I recommend resisting that urge. Once you know what it feels like to be engaged in play on its own, you can selectively add back music, podcasts, and other background tasks.
No matter what, you should enjoy your playtime—don’t work while playing!
How You’ll Know
You’re Good at It
The goal of monotasking play is not about getting in shape or becoming particularly skilled at a hobby or sport. If that happens, it’s great, but the real purpose is to have fun, relieve stress, and be refreshed when you get back to everything else you need to do. You’ll know you are good at monotasking playing when:
You make time to play on a regular basis.
You get creative about playing while on business trips, when you are really busy, when the weather is bad, and in other situations where you have to expend a little more energy to get your playtime in.
You are happier and less anxious.
You are able to lose yourself in play, not thinking about work or your to-do list.
You seek out friends who want to play like you do.
You develop deeper connections with your children through play.
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Thatcher Wine is the founder and CEO of Juniper Books, a company curating libraries and designing special-edition book sets. Wine is the author of The Twelve Monotasks and co-author of For the Love of Books: Designing and Curating a Home Library.
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