Monotasking in Teaching: Is it possible?

by | Sep 30, 2018

What is Monotasking?

Monotasking is the act of doing ONE thing. It is the clearing away of as many distractions so that your sole focus is that ONE thing. It is rejecting outside interruptions as well as your own desire to do something else while doing that ONE thing.

Some consider it a skill others a technique- whichever category it falls in for you, monotasking is a endangered speicies in the workplace (and at school). It often takes a back seat to our work-driven, multi-tasking, grind. It falls second to our desire to be always doing – to accomplish more, to stay busy, and to be on top of everything. Relinquishing the desire to multi-task is both an inner struggle and a social construct.

I mean, if you’re reading this on a computer right now, how many other tabs do you have open?

You can read more about other time and productivity tips in FREE mini-ebook, The Resilient Teacher’s Timesaving Guidebook

The Science Behind Monotasking

The science and research support monotasking as a solid approach to productivity. Although we live in a society that wears “busy” as a badge of honor, trying to do many things at the same time can actually reduce your productivity. You see, when you are multitasking you are stretching your brain in different directions, you aren’t focused on any one thing, and long-term it can take its toll on our concentration and perspective toward our job.

In fact, multitasking can actually DECREASE your productivity by 40%.

The Side Effects of Multitasking

Not only is it true that multitasking can be counter-productive to getting things done, it can also be harmful. Yes, that’s right. Switching from one task to the next requires your brain to switch modes and doing this constantly causes strain.

Prolonged multitasking (think of the life of an educator) can cause a detrimental impact on health. In severe cases, multitasking has been attributed to a decrease in IQ. This is based on a research study done by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London that quantified the effects of multitasking as worse than lack of sleep and other more drastic forms of impairment.

Understanding that multitasking is less productive and potentially harmful to our wellness positions monotasking as a more attractive and beneficial approach to working and to life.

Monotasking for Teachers

On average, an educator makes over 1,500 educational decisions in a single school day. This alone demonstrates why teachers can often be seen doing many things at once.
Answering a question, while writing a pass, taking attendance, and motioning to the student in the back to have a seat. Sound familiar?

Shifting between tasks, especially tasks that take different brain power, such as teaching and clicking around on the computer require you to refocus your attention in different directions and inefficiently taxes your brain.In reality, it is nearly impossible to focus on just one thing at a time. But, when we can, it can make a significant difference in our approach to teaching and learning and our mindset about our positions.

So, the next time you are tempted to wander over to your computer between helping students, question if it’s the right move and refocus your attention back to what really matters.

Monotasking and Teacher Resilience

The laundry list of “to-do’s” is neverending for teachers. We try to do our best for everyone and find ourselves divided, often not being able to give our very best to anyone. In a society (and profession) where staying connected and busy is the norm, it takes a conscious effort to disconnect and give singular focus to a task.

Try Batching

Batching is a term that isn’t used much in academic circles but is an effective way of getting work done efficiently and is considered a productivity hack in the business world. It involves grouping like tasks in order to cut through them quickly. You save time and brainpower by not constantly shifting gears.

Instead of moving back and forth between all of your different tasks, you attack your work in a linear fashion, completing one task before moving on to the next. When you focus your energy, you can accomplish more in less time because you don’t have to refocus with each new task.

Batching is one of many ways to approach school work to support teacher resilience and wellness. This subject is detailed with more actionable tips and ideas in the book Joy in Teaching: A Research-based Framework of Action for Educators.

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