Multi-tasking vs uni-tasking

Tamaryn Watkins has a confession to make. She's a woman and she cannot multi-task.

Confession. I am a woman and I cannot multi-task.

It’s taken me many years to admit that, but the truth of it is inevitable as it has been pointed out to me so often by my fiancé that I can no longer deny it. I am a woman and I SUCK at multi-tasking.

I feel a little like I am betraying the sisterhood by saying that, as women seem to take pride in our gender’s inherent ability to multi-task but I say that it’s not innate behaviour – it is learned behaviour.

In my defence I was raised in a single-father environment and my dad taught me to focus on one thing at a time and to give it my undivided attention. The male role model in my life taught me to uni-task.

How many times have you heard someone say, "I get so much done because I can multi-task"? This assertion usually comes with a smug little grin and it seems like productivity is measured purely by the ability to multi-task. I say not.

I say that person in the office simultaneously filing reports, replying to emails, talking on the phone and preparing presentations whilst playing Words With Friends is failing at being productive.

Masters of multi-tasking actually get less done and the quality of their work suffers. If you are a multi-tasker, chances are you’re easily distracted, your memory can be unreliable and you battle to filter out irrelevant information. When you leap from project to project, your brain slows down.

Each shift in attention causes you to redirect your thoughts and it can take you a while to feel like you’re back on top of a task, each time you shift to a different one.

Masters of multi-tasking also experience more stress. This stress is caused by a situation where, because you’re juggling so many different things, nothing has been completed. Stress causes the brain to slow down, which leads to mistakes being made or overlooking important details – trying to do too many different things at once makes you feel frantic.

Feeling frantic leads to sloppy work.


So how do you kick the multi-tasking habit? Simple. Just do one thing at a time.Through uni-tasking you get to reassess life and work habits which help to relieve stress, assists with setting priorities and improving your overall efficiency.

A better understanding of how valuable your time really is helps you stick to a schedule that will benefit you.

Try to get to work 10-20 minutes earlier than I need to.

This gives me time to catch up on Twitter, read blogs and have a cup of coffee to get my day started on a relaxed note. Start by getting the procrastination out of the way.

Try to be more organised.

I make lists. Not one long to-do list. Small, short ones. Tasks to accomplish that morning/afternoon.

They’re realistic tasks and I work through them in order of priority. I don’t pile too much on my plate. I use Google Calendar to schedule everything – the better my day is planned out, the less scope there is for the necessity to multi-task.

I also don’t over-promise – I try to give myself as much time as possible to complete tasks.

Don't check your emails/messages/tweets constantly.


All push notifications on my iPhone are off. In between completing tasks, I give myself 5-10 minutes to check for new messages and respond to requests and queries.

This means I only check mail 4-5 times a day, and it definitely makes me feel less anxious.

Learn to say no.

Once I accepted that my time is precious and not everyone is entitled to a piece of it, it’s become a lot easier to cut out the unnecessary. I don’t have to take every project/task that’s offered to me, I don’t have to accept every invitation and I don’t have to read every press release or email that comes my way.

Turning down a project with an explanation “I don’t have enough time to do it justice” is better than feeling guilty about the slapdash job you did on it at 4am in the morning when you ran out of time.

Do one thing at a time.


Duh. That’s the most important thing about uni-tasking, but it’s the hardest. If I’m writing, I focus only on writing. If someone comes to ask me something while I’m busy, I say “I just need to finish this; I will come find you when I’m done.”

If I can’t finish something, I close it or set it aside completely, before moving on to the next task.

Follow Tamaryn's blog, Twitter and Facebook pages here.

And follow Women24 on Twitter.




What’s your opinion on multi-tasking? Is it a necessary evil?

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