Monotasking: The Pleasure of Taking Pains

Market Insight
Mac Bogert

Employees come to work with the faster and shorter is better default setting primed. They've passed numerous fast-food establishments, exceeded the speed limit and probably gotten upset because they didn't make a green light and had to stop. Leaders and organizations need be aware of these human and cultural preferences and mindsets and must be proactive in making it abundantly clear that fast and shorter is not better.

The Renewal Group



I love to sail. It energizes me to find opportunity among things I cannot control. Wind. Waves. Tides. Current. Weather. Drunks on jet skis. So maybe that's why I've developed a deep contentment with crafting only what I can control during the pandemic.

I have made some very close friends around the world, for instance. As a result of the lockdown, my idea of distance changed to a new definition - 18 inches. That's how far I sit from my computer screen.

In this shifted time, I also got into the habit of talking with my neighbors. Suddenly, we were walking around instead of simply driving by on our way to and from work—work which  is now either not or it's here. Although I'm not naturally social, I have become necessarily social as part of my vaccination against the isolation virus. I went back to school as well. And a wonderful thing discovered me: monotasking—what the poet John Ciardi named "the pleasure of taking pains."



You may have noticed our tendency to maniacally look ahead. By that I mean focusing on the next thing(s) while we're doing what will become the previous thing. Hand-in-hand goes the floundering industrial addiction to multi-tasking. Taking a walk and texting. Driving and listening to the news. Taking a shower with a podcast. Posting on Twitter while having a conversation. Checking our messaging while Zooming. I have the habit of all those things too, AND I have found deep pleasure in enjoying monotasking: just driving, just cooking, just walking, just videoconferencing. Oddly, I don't accomplish less. I accomplish more, and more completely. Less cortisol, more dopamine.

When I played music for a living, I had a foot drum, harmonica, voice and guitar. My friend Bob Devlin was a busker—a street musician. He was very successful and often had cymbals tied to his knees, an old kick-drum foot pedal with a tambourine attached, even a little thing taped to his elbow (I never figured out how it started its life, maybe a kitchen utensil of some sort) that he could tap on his guitar. We once shared a stage at the Cellar Door and he simply played guitar and sang. I'd never realized how heartfelt he was until his multitudosity (ha!) was boiled down to the essentials.



2020 has given me the opportunity for a contentment that grows from a different cadence. I don't have to cram, to see stuffing fifty pounds of stuff into a twenty-five pound bag as an accomplishment. Although I do have to scoot from time to time, when I move to the cadence of "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" instead of "I Wanna be Sedated," I not only work better, I feel better. And no less gets done.

Another bonus is that by being totally here rather than focusing on there, now rather than yet-to-come, I notice more, and my intuitive connection to my work is stronger. On top of that, I create a more attractive welcome mat for insights and creativity.

Try finding a couple of spaces today to focus on just the thing. When you're preparing food, walking, writing—the what makes little difference. I guarantee you'll feel some discomfort as you rub up against what you're used to. For, as my friend Richard Rosengarten used to say, "If you hang long enough, you get used to hanging." If you find these opportunities and stick with the practice, you will receive an illuminating prize: the deep pleasure of taking pains.

For those inclined to audio information, please stop by the back2different podcast to meet any of the 37 folks from around the world who are only 18 inches away:


About the author

Mac Bogert is President of AZA Learning and a regular columnist for the Learning Counsel. He began his career as an English teacher. For the past 25 years, Mac has focused on the intersection of leadership and learning. In between, he is a musician, professional actor, yacht charter captain, staff development consultant, curriculum designer and author of Learning Chaos.


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