illustration of person with long red hair and black headphones leaning over yellow computer screen against blue background
Illustration by Brittany England

“I have eleven items on my to-do list, each one of which is very important. I don’t know where to start.”

I have seven tabs open on my internet browser, an email drafted, a few notes scrawled into my agenda, and a creeping tension in my shoulder, after twenty minutes.

“I feel like I am balancing on my hands. I can’t focus on just one, the rest will fall Everything is going to come crashing down on top of me if I don’t make some adjustments fast.”

Can you relate?

“I recently found a way to approach my work that doesn’t leave me feeling overwhelmed.”

It is called deep work.

Deep work is when you are fully present and immersed in the task at hand. Some people refer to it as being in the zone or in a state of flow. It involves being completely focused on one thing.

In a 2012 study with 188 junior tennis players, participants rated their perceived level of flow state during their match. The group of winning athletes scored significantly higher on all but one of nine flow dimensions, showing statistically significant differences in:

  • The level of challenge is related to the skills.
  • Having clear goals.
  • A sense of control and purpose.

A 2018 research review noted that scientific literature identified a positive relationship between flow and performance, as well as artistic and scientific creativity.

“The reality is that only 2 percent of the population can actually do two cognitive tasks at the same time. They’re called ‘supertaskers,’” explains Thatcher Wine, author of “The Twelve Monotasks: Do One Thing at a Time to Do Everything Better.”

Monotasking is a concept that Wine says can be used to embrace deep work.

“Wine says that the rest of us can’t do both. Task switch is what we are really doing when we try to juggle.”

According to a 2019 research review, the human brain lacks the cognitive and neural building blocks for performing two tasks at once. The review noted that multitasking makes it more likely for competing streams of irrelevant information to capture people’s attention, resulting in a disruption in performance and an increase in errors.

The constant jumping from one task to another can cause us to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Wine says we may believe we are getting loads done, but task switching actually hampers our productivity and can even lead to burnout.

multitasking can result in

  • Performance disruption.
  • Errors increased.
  • distraction
  • The attention span has been reduced.
  • reduced creativity.
  • Productivity was decreased.
  • There is stress and overwhelm.

Monotasking encourages us to be present in one place, give our attention to what we are doing, and get into a state of deep work.

Wine says that the advantages of deep work are numerous. You will have more fun and do better. You will be more productive, make fewer mistakes, and make connections that you may not have been aware of.

The human brain lacks the cognitive and neural building blocks for performing two tasks at once.

If you are the kind of person who is always trying to complete five things at once, focusing on just one task may feel like a tall order. Try these tips to get started.

Eliminate distractions

Distractions pull your focus away from the task at hand, but you can avoid most of them with a few simple changes.

“Close your email window so that you don’t see it until you get a new message It can be too tempting to check what it is about and who it is from.”

“You can try to put your phone in a drawer where you can’t see it, and also put it in airplane mode.”

It is helpful to let those around you know that you are concentrating on a specific task. You can politely ask them not to disturb you.

Go for a walk

As a writer, I’ve often found walking to be an effective cure for writer’s block. Inspiration, creativity, and focus seem to come naturally after I’ve spent 20 minutes or so pounding the pavement.

Wine believes mindfully moving our bodies can be key to getting into flow. To get the most benefit from your walk, he advises leaving your phone at home or in your pocket.

Wine says that moving your body and not doing anything besides walking can help you get into a state of flow quickly. It is doable if you remove the phone calls, audiobooks, and other distraction from the way.

Try binaural beats

Certain frequencies of binaural beats might increase focus and concentration. I often put on my headphones and listen to them when I want to get in the zone.

A binaural beat consists of two tones that are of different frequencies. The frequency of these beats may alter brain wave activity.

There is limited research on the links between concentration and beats. They might help you focus by eliminating outside distraction. I have found they keep me focused on the task at hand.

You can find binaural beat tracks on YouTube and other streaming platforms.

Plan ahead

Instead of thinking about different things, plan out your tasks.

You can organize everything you need to do into a to-do list by writing it down.

Follow these steps.

  1. Write all the tasks down in a big pile.
  2. A secondary list should be created that ranks the tasks by priority.
  3. Block out a time for each task.

This can help you realize that you have enough time to complete everything, and that it is manageable. It can help you focus on one thing at a time, as you cross items off your list.

Make monotasking a habit

Wine says that multitasking can help us be more productive. The more we do it, the better we become.

He suggests doing something every day to build your muscles.

Wine says that almost everything in our world is designed to distract us. We are tricked into thinking we can do both things by watching shorter and shorter videos.

What can we do to get back in the game?

Wine says that we need to counterbalance this by rebuilding our attention spans. This can help us rebuild our ability to pay attention.

Wine believes that reading for 20 minutes is a good way to start.

He says reaching for a book in the morning is a great habit to cultivate.

“He suggests starting with a few minutes and increasing the duration over time if you haven’t read a book in a long time.”

Other ways to focus and pay attention are also available.

Find flow in every activity

When we talk about deep work, we often think of being immersed in an important work project or losing ourselves in some sort of creative endeavor.

Wine says there are opportunities to find flow in your life.

Listening to a conversation can be a simple activity that pulls your focus into the present moment.

Wine advises to listen intently and eliminate distraction when in a conversation.

I often say to listen as if you are recording a show or if your life depends on it. He says it will become second nature at some point.

Sometimes we can mistake multitasking for productivity, but focusing on a single task can make us more present, engaged, and productive.

It can take some practice to get into a state of flow, but by making adjustments like putting away our phones and planning ahead, it can become a regular habit that helps us engage more deeply with every aspect of life.

Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.