The Secure Methodology™ Step Five: Monotasking

Our lives are filled with tasks, both professionally and personally. How we approach those tasks influences how productive we are and if we complete these things accurately and correctly. In the great task debate, the most talked about are monotasking and multitasking. The latter gets the most attention and is often considered a great skill. However, in most cases, monotasking is the best method for cybersecurity, and you’ll learn why.

As the fifth in this series, this post will provide an overview of monotasking. It complements the previous articles on awarenessmindsetacknowledgment, and communication.

What Is Monotasking, and Why Is It Superior to Multitasking?

As you can guess, it’s the opposite of multitasking! Monotasking describes focusing on one thing at a time to achieve more. Somehow, concentrating on the task at hand seemed to correlate to not being able to work in a fast-paced environment or juggle many priorities. Job descriptions for cyber professionals even list multitasking as a desired skill.

I’m here to tell you that this is the wrong way to think about cybersecurity, productivity, and relationships. Multitasking doesn’t have the value the world assigns to it because many things get screwed up when we try to do too many at a time. When multitasking, our brains must compartmentalize and deal with distractions. Ultimately, multitasking quickly leads to mistakes, disengagement, and burnout.

We Weren’t Born to Be Multitaskers

Even though multitasking is a praised attribute, the facts are that humans weren’t built for it. Our brains, even though highly evolved, can’t process multiple emotions simultaneously. You can switch back and forth, but simultaneous isn’t an option. When you multitask, your brain has to change constantly and reset.

Why “Forced” Multitasking Hurts Cybersecurity

The expectation of multitasking in cybersecurity is rampant. There’s an air of toxic positivity around it, with the misbelief that those who can do this get more done and can handle such a dynamic field. The reality is that it messes up the flow of work so that many don’t get much completed. It also brings out anxiety in workers, which hurts the team and themselves.

Anxiety is a normal part of the human condition, but multitasking exacerbates this to the point that technical folks always feel on edge. They are in cycles of fight or flight. As a result, they can’t focus on the clear mission — to protect data and networks. Things are stressful enough in cybersecurity, and multitasking makes it worse.

In addition to more anxiety, workers aren’t present because their minds are going through a million things. If the mind is fragmented, we can’t be present for the conversation or task at hand. It also impedes collaboration, which is a fundamental necessity for any cyber team. Multitaskers don’t actively listen, so communication stalls and risk increases.

Anxiety plus not being present further leads to quality issues in work. When you multitask, your brain combines information subconsciously, so things can get mixed up. That will impact the quality of everything the person does, from sending an email to monitoring the network. Mistakes and errors become more prevalent, and this distraction is a ripe opportunity for cybercriminals.

If multitasking is bad for cybersecurity, then monotasking must be the answer. I wasn’t always so convinced.

Accepting Monotasking

When I first began to learn about monotasking and its value, I was apprehensive but willing to try a new approach. I needed to be more productive and efficient, but I first had to unlearn multitasking, which is hard because it’s ingrained in us. Once I embraced monotasking, I had a clear vision of the destruction of multitasking in cybersecurity, which is why monotasking is part of the Secure Methodology.

Working toward being a monotasker means you have to unlearn multitasking behaviors. It may seem impossible for you and your team to make this adjustment. It’s not easy, but it can deliver many benefits for the company and its employees. So, how do you counteract this conditioning and build a bridge to monotasking as the standard?

Adapting to Monotasking: Tips and Techniques

If you realize that monotasking is the pivot you need to take for your cyber team, you’ll need strategies in hand to make the turn. As part of the monotasking step in my book, The Smartest Person in the Room, I lay out some tips and techniques to use. Here’s a glimpse at some of those.

Distraction-Free Meetings

Whether meetings are in-person or virtual, you should set the tone by requiring these to be device-free zones. In such a space, your team can collaboratively focus on the issue or project at hand. You need your team to be present in these meetings because you’re all trying to solve a problem. You need their full attention in these matters, and you won’t get that if they are checking email or scrolling.

Blocked Time for Specific Tasks

Another great monotasking tactic is to practice and recommend blocked time. It includes setting up specific times on your calendar to do one thing, such as reviewing and responding to emails or calls. Block this time as you would for a meeting so that it shows that you’re busy during that time.

You should also use this method for project work so you have dedicated time to focus on something complex with many moving parts. Having a daily agenda of monotasking helps you prioritize what you need to accomplish and divvy up time for each item on the list.

Once you do this for a while, you’ll better understand the time required to dedicate to blocked time tasks. As a result, you can plan more accurately and be more productive. You’ll be surprised at how this approach can reduce anxiety, enable you to be present, and improve the quality of work.

Figuring Out Why You Feel the Need to Respond Now

Another exercise for moving toward monotasking is determining why you need to respond to chat or email immediately. Emergencies will happen, and you’ll have to deal with them straight away, but most emails can wait.

Understanding the intention behind any behavior helps you break the habit. Whatever the “why” is for you, acknowledge it and then move forward to change your actions.

Saying “No” Is Okay

People often multitask because they have competing priorities that need their attention to meet a due date or urgent need. You can’t say no to all these, as some could be true emergencies. Other things you can say no to right then but pick up later after you finish what you need to do.

You’ve been taught to say yes to everything, but you don’t have to take on more tasks than you can handle. It’s okay to say no based on what your workload already is. You want to show your team that the environment is not one where you don’t have a say in your agenda. Explain to them that pushing back is an acceptable response. You’d rather have them focus on completing one thing than hopping all around and getting nothing done.

Deep Focus Outperforms the Multitasking

In the pursuit of creating a monotasking culture, you will get lots of pushback. Many think that multitasking is a superpower. They believe it’s part of their identity and will not want to change. However, the steps in the Secure Methodology before monotasking can set the stage for this as people evolve to a growth mindset and become better communicators. So, this behavioral shift isn’t on shaky ground.

Multitasking can be a badge of honor, especially for those who want to be the smartest person in the room. They equate smart with being able to do many things at once. Unfortunately, multitasking doesn’t deliver these kinds of results. Deep focus does.

When someone can apply deep focus to a task without all the noise and clutter, they are more productive and effective. Tension drops, and they no longer have to be in that fight-or-flight mode. Of course, getting buy-in on deep focus will take convincing and illustration. I include specific exercises in the book to support this. In addition, talking about monotasking and its benefits through anecdotes will make it more tangible.

Monotasking Should Be a Cybersecurity Pillar

I’d like to see the day that a cyber job description included monotasking as a skill versus its cousin, multitasking. It should be a core pillar of cybersecurity in every organization. It’s, perhaps, a radical idea right now, but one with data and research to support it.

Can you turn your team into monotaskers? It will require disruption to their beliefs about work and productivity. Change is hard no matter how beneficial, but if you’ve proceeded through the Secure Methodology’s first four steps, you’ll have a strong foundation.

You can learn more about the Secure Methodology and monotasking by reading my bookThe Smartest Person in the Room.

Monotasking vs. Multitasking

monotasking vs multitaskingHow we take on tasks significantly influences our productivity during the day. Even when given a minor task, a person will likely have difficulty completing it if they’re using the wrong techniques and not utilizing their available resources.

Monotasking and multitasking are two of the most common techniques people use in completing tasks. Many of us still use both methods, but one is better than the other.

What Is Monotasking?

Monotasking or single-tasking is the process of dedicating oneself to one given task at a time. Monotasking contrasts with multitasking because we won’t have to attempt to take on multiple tasks at once. Monotasking is about doing less to achieve more.

It’s common for people to multitask, but our minds and bodies can’t multitask effectively. During the 1960s, multitasking became popular, as an IBM report talked about the many capabilities of its latest computer. Today, more and more people claim that they’re good at multitasking and are proud of being busy with various things rather than being great at one.

Although not a familiar term to many, we should strive to monotask rather than multitask. Monotasking allows us to boost our productivity because we’ll accomplish a specific task before proceeding to another. Since we’re not too distracted by many things, monotasking can also improve communication, as we can be present at the moment and effectively listen whenever other people are talking.

Monotasking is still new for many of us, but we can gradually incorporate this practice into our daily routine by following these steps.

1.  Locate Peak Performance Time

All of us function differently throughout the day. While some of us work better in the morning, others are more productive at night. Some can also work straight for eight hours, while others prefer taking frequent breaks during the day.

For us to practice monotasking, we should first locate our peak performance time. Once we’re able to identify peak performance time, we should use time blocking, as suggested in my book “The Smartest Person in the Room.”

Time blocking is an essential ingredient in monotasking, as this enables us to unleash our creativity and makes it easier for us to do some deep work. We should guard this period for us to accomplish even the most complex tasks scheduled for that day.

2. Eliminate Distractions

It’ll be challenging for us to monotask if distractions are present everywhere. Regardless of how committed we are to finishing one task at a given time, we won’t accomplish anything if distractions prevent us from getting any work done.

You can start by removing distractions present in your working environment, like clutter and loud noises. These are the most common distractions that prevent us from working. We’ll be too stressed thinking about getting rid of clutter or wondering when the noises will end instead of focusing our energy on the tasks at hand.

Aside from the distractions present in the environment, you should also remove distractions in your mind. Instead of attempting to finish ten tasks in one day, focus on two critical tasks that will have the most significant impact on that day. This practice takes your attention away from items that are only important on the surface and allows you to focus more on tasks that matter.

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that requires you to take a five-minute break after working for 25 minutes. Following this technique is an excellent way to monotask because it maintains motivation, manages distractions, and increases accountability.

To effectively follow the Pomodoro Technique, we should maximize our breaks to get our body moving by doing some yoga poses, drinking a cup of tea, or walking around the house. Doing any of these will allow our minds and bodies to relax, preparing us for another deep work session.

The Pomodoro Technique will make it easier for us to monotask because the idea of working for 25 minutes will create a sense of urgency that will encourage us to stay focused. Moreover, the concept of having breaks after being productive for 25 minutes can also be a great reward.

What Is Multitasking?

Almost everyone knows what multitasking is; it’s the practice of doing several tasks at once. People who want to do more during the day often multitask, but this practice can actually do more harm than good. According to studies, multitasking reduces the brain’s cognitive control and decreases motivation in the long run.

Aside from this, multitasking is also known to decrease our focus and learning, impair our memory, and increase stress levels. Multitasking can also increase our risks of depression and anxiety, as our brains try too hard to juggle many things at once when it’s naturally programmed to focus on one task at a time.

Multitasking can harm our minds and bodies, which is why we should exert time and effort to get out of this unhealthy habit and start monotasking.

The following tips can help us stop multitasking and transition to monotasking easier.

1. Turn Off Notifications

Having access to the internet has improved our lives, but too much use can have adverse effects on our productivity. This is especially true if we allow ourselves to be distracted by email and social media notifications whenever we start working on a task.

An easy hack for us to prevent multitasking is to turn off notifications irrelevant to our tasks. This enables us to focus more on our tasks because we won’t have any reason to check our devices every ten minutes when we’re working.

Even if we’re going to follow the Pomodoro Technique and take breaks regularly, we should avoid checking our devices because this will make it harder for us to regain our focus after our breaks.

2. Make a Prioritized To-Do List

Thinking about the number of tasks we have for the day can put our brain in a stressed condition. When this happens, we attempt to finish as many tasks as possible, thinking that this will keep the stress at bay. However, this cycle only causes us to multitask and prevent us from completing anything during the day.

For us to finally get rid of multitasking, we should make a to-do list and order the tasks based on priority. We should sort the to-do lists in terms of “must” or the tasks that have to be completed during the day, and the rest are tasks that can wait if we don’t have enough time.

Making and sticking to a to-do list will free up our brain space and allow us to focus on one task at a time. A to-do list will also help us stay calm when working, making it easier for us to remain productive.

3. Be Prepared to Say “No”

One of the reasons why we end up multitasking is because we accept tasks that we don’t have time for. If our boss wants to get some things done, it’s common for us to volunteer without even checking our schedules for the day.

We can prevent multitasking moving forward by learning to say “no” to additional tasks. If we have too many things on our plate for the day, we should politely decline any more assignments so that we’ll have more time to focus on our pending tasks.

Adapt to Change

A lot of us still multitask, thinking that we can accomplish more in less time. However, this is rarely a guarantee because multitasking requires us to jump from one task to another, resulting in stress and unfinished projects. Multitasking is a common practice, but this doesn’t mean that we should continue doing it.

To stay productive every day, we should apply monotasking and plan our day with intention. Learn more about monotasking and the 7 Step Secure Methodology in my book, “The Smartest Person in the Room,” available on Amazon.

Check Out The Smartest Person in The Room

How to Get More Time in Your Day Without Waking Up Earlier

cybersecurity certificationsThis blog post is a transcription from the video at the bottom of the post.

How to get more time in your day without waking up earlier. In this post, we’ll cover three tips to make you more productive, to give you back more time in your day without having to cut into your sleep. I’m Christian Espinosa. I’m the CEO of a company. I do Ironman triathlons. I climb mountains. I travel a lot. So productivity is extremely important to me and I’m constantly striving to become more productive. I’ve learned these three techniques over my lifespan and that’s what I’m sharing with you today. So number one is monotasking. We live in this world where everyone thinks it’s normal to multitask, but multitasking is inefficient. There are many studies that show it’s inefficient.

So you should be monotasking, which means you’re focused on one thing, 100% focused on one thing at a time. This way you can get one thing done before you move on to another one or make significant headway on one task before you move on to another one. Your brain can’t really focus on two things at once. Hence, monotasking. The second thing is time blocks. Some people call it block time. You should set your day up so you have blocks of activities scheduled and each of these blocks is set up where you monotask on a specific project or activity for that block of time. Then between each block of time, which is the third thing, you have active breaks. It’s too easy to just sit at your computer or at a job for hours at a time.

But what happens after roughly 50 minutes is your focus starts to wander and you’re less effective. Even if you’re monotasking, you still need a break every 50-60 minutes or so.

time block example - christian espinosa
Time Block Example

Here’s an example of some time blocks:

  • Time Block 1: Between 7:00 am and 8:00 am, you do email. This is a time block with monotasking. You only do email between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning. That’s it. What most people do is they’ll start a project, and while they’re working on the project, they’ll answer emails, answer text messages, answer the phone, and they make zero progress on the project. So only do email on this time block, and this is just a suggestion. You can do it however you want to
  • Active Break: Then between 8:00 am and  8:10 am, you notice I have a 10-minute break between these two, that 10 minutes is where you take the active break. You do something like get up, walk around, maybe do some pushups, whatever you want to do to get the blood flowing because we sit for too long in front of the computer most of the time.
  • Time Block 2: Then the next period of time block or block of time, I have project one. So I only work on project one during this time block. I don’t do email. I don’t answer the phone. Only project one.
  • Active Break: Next time block I have a break between them. I do something active, walk around, go for a walk, go outside.

Then I do personal development, as the example, then another break, then project two. Some people say, “Well, I’ve got a lot of work to do on a specific project.” That’s okay. You set up two blocks of time for that project, but make sure you take that 10-minute break between the two so you don’t start zoning out or getting distracted or losing your focus. That’s where the active break comes into play. Even if it’s as simple as going outside for a short walk, that will help get the blood flowing and often clear your head, and then you come back with a fresh perspective and can often make more progress on that particular project. So the three things to get a quick review, monotasking, time blocks, and active breaks.

I hope you found these three tips useful. Good luck with your productivity. Take care.