Monotasking vs. Multitasking: What's the Difference? (Plus When To Use Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 8, 2021

Having excellent time and project management skills is crucial to succeeding in your personal and professional life. People monotask and multitask to complete work, and both methods serve different purposes but can prove extremely effective in getting work done. If you deal with multiple deadlines or projects, understanding the difference between the two time management methods can help you choose which to use to get your work done in a timely, efficient manner. In this article, we explore the differences between monotasking versus multitasking, review the benefits of both and discover when to use them.

Related: Time Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Monotasking vs. multitasking

There are several key differences between monotasking versus multitasking, including:

How you complete tasks

Monotasking, otherwise known as single-tasking, refers to dealing with only one task. In this form of time management, you take on only one task to complete. Multitasking refers to dealing with more than one task and up to as many tasks as you'd like to take on.

How you manage your focus

Monotasking focuses on completing one task at a time. Because of this, monotasking may allow you to have improved focus on what you need to accomplish. Multitasking focuses on completing multiple tasks at a time and, as a result, it may be more difficult to focus based on the number of different things that you need to accomplish.

How wide your scope of work is

Your scope of work may be wider if you multitask. This is because you're focused on several activities, which may be multiple topics or areas. When monotasking, your scope of work may be smaller as opposed to if you were multitasking because you're focused on one task. It's important to note that the scope of a single project can also be wide because of the content or topic of the project.

What your level of productivity is

When monotasking or multitasking, your level of productivity can vary. For instance, you may collectively complete more work and make more progress on multiple projects while multitasking, or you may make some progress on several projects. You also may make significant progress on a single task and therefore have a high level of productivity, or do little work on the project and have a low level of productivity.

Related: The Art of Multitasking: Definition + 25 Examples

What are the benefits of monotasking?

Benefits of monotasking include:

  • Improved focus on tasks: Having just one task to deal with can improve your focus on it and produce better, more accurate results.

  • Dedicated prioritization: If you only have one task to handle at a time, it gets automatically prioritized simply because there are no other tasks for you to complete.

  • Increased mindfulness: With just one task to focus on, you can have increased mindfulness and focus on just the task at hand.

What are the benefits of multitasking?

Benefits to multitasking include:

  • Allows progress to occur on multiple projects: When multitasking, you can make progress on several projects at once, which can be beneficial to you if you're short on time or behind on your work.

  • Develops distraction prevention techniques: Multitasking typically helps you develop techniques for preventing distractions or interruptions, as well as developing means of ignoring these distractions.

  • Forms coping mechanisms in busy environments: When much is occurring around you, multitasking can help you learn to cope with these circumstances and still produce quality work.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Multitasking

When to monotask

Sometimes monotasking may prove to be the most efficient and effective way of dealing with a workload, such as:

  • When you have advance notice for a task: If you have advanced notice of a task to complete, you may decide to plan and prepare to monotask in order to get it done on time.

  • When you have an urgent deadline: If you have an urgent deadline for a project, it's helpful to home in on the project and choose to monotask to complete it by the designated deadline.

  • When you have an important task to complete: If you have an important task to complete, it may be beneficial to commit to monotasking in order to get this task completed in the most accurate and efficient manner possible.

When to multitask

Similar to monotasking, there are some situations where multitasking may prove to be the best way to complete tasks in the timeframe you have, such as:

  • When multiple projects are due: If you have multiple projects that are due, multitasking may help ensure that you complete them by their deadlines.

  • When you're short on time: If you don't have enough time to complete projects, it's beneficial to multitask and make progress on most of the projects that need to be finished.

  • When you're behind on work: If you're behind on work, it's sometimes necessary to multitask in order to get work completed by the deadline.

Related: How To Multitask in 15 Simple Steps

Tips for multitasking

Consider these tips when multitasking:

  • Take occasional breaks: When multitasking, remember to take an occasional brief break. When you take a break, you can develop a new outlook on the tasks at hand and give yourself some rest and refreshment.

  • Set realistic goals: it's important to set realistic goals when multitasking. Setting goals such as these can help you complete tasks accurately and with ease.

  • Combine similar tasks: Consider combining research or work for any of your related tasks to streamline your tasks. Combining tasks can help you double your output while performing research once.

Tips for monotasking

Consider these tips when monotasking:

  • Work at a steady pace: Working at a controlled, steady pace can be useful when monotasking. You may feel inclined to work quickly so you can focus on the next upcoming task, but working at a consistent pace can help ensure your work is free of errors and as focused as possible.

  • Pause for a break: It's helpful to pause for a brief break now and then when monotasking. Doing so allows you to rest for a period and return to the project refreshed.

  • Set your priorities: If you have several projects to complete but choose to monotask, it can be especially helpful to prioritize them by importance or due date. This way, you won't feel the need to multitask or work quickly in order to begin the next project as soon as possible.

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