What is a Unitasker?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “unitasker” is used in two different ways. In the first sense, it refers to an object with one function, such as a rice cooker. It is also sometimes used in reference to people, as a description for someone who only completes one task at a time. Some people view unitaskers unfavorably in certain situations, whether they are objects or people, with the implication that the ability to perform multiple tasks is vital.

A rice cooker, a type of unitasker.
A rice cooker, a type of unitasker.

In the sense of an object, a unitasker is designed to perform one very specific function, and it is typically incapable of doing anything else. Ideally, engineers design the item to be extremely good at what it does. A waffle iron, for example, can only be used to make waffles, but it tends to make waffles extremely effectively, justifying its existence as a unitasker. Other objects as varied as saddles and soap dishes can also be considered unitaskers.

Soap in a soap dish, a type of unitasker.
Soap in a soap dish, a type of unitasker.

Most people take exception to unitaskers in the kitchen more than anywhere else. This is because space in the kitchen is typically constrained, and a unitasker takes up more space than an item which can perform multiple functions. For example, a lemon zester is really only good for removing the zest of citrus fruits, while a rough grater, like a Microplane® grater, can zest citrus and grate a number of other things from chocolate to cheese, making it a more effective kitchen tool. This is especially true with unitasking appliances, which can rapidly eat up space in a crowded kitchen.

A waffle iron has one main function -- making waffles.
A waffle iron has one main function -- making waffles.

In the sense of a person, being a unitasker isn't necessarily such a bad thing. Many people have very different ways of working, and some people prefer to work on one thing at a time. This does not necessarily make them less efficient, as the ability to focus on one task at once may allow someone to complete the task extremely well and in a reasonably short amount of time. Unfortunately for many people of a unitasking inclination, many modern schools and workplaces are geared towards multitaskers, which can make life extremely frustrating.

If you happen to prefer unitasking, you may want to avoid job advertisements for things like “fast paced workplaces,” and you may want to make your working style explicitly clear in job interviews, especially if you have excellent references which indicate that your unitasking nature is an asset to the workplace. You may also want to reference it in resumes with comments which indicate that you have “an eye for detail” which stress the positive sides of being a unitasker. In a school environment, try to create a schedule structure which works well for you, and do not be afraid to ask for help from staff and instructors.

A citrus zester is a unitasker.
A citrus zester is a unitasker.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Some tasks are very complicated, require a lot preparation or other preliminary work, or need the one doing them to keep a lot of factors in mind and try to take them all into account at the same time.

In my experience, these sorts of tasks can only be done one-at-time to be done well (not to mention minimize the overhead of setting up).


In my opinion, the brains of multitaskers might be living in the future more often (to "juggle" multiple tasks), while the brains of unitaskers might be living in the present *now* moment more often. If this is correct, do we tend to become unitaskers, as we age, since we might then savor the *now* moment more, since the future is shrinking for us? This might point to a philosophical unconscious?


I was thinking about the waffle iron. It can be used as a form for lead weights, and what about the story of Nike or whomever that was that used a waffle iron to make soles for his first Tennis Shoes? Just for fun....


A woman I know cannot put on her gloves without slowing down her walk. Any other activity will slow her walking. It would seem that walking is so automatic that it would not require separate attention.


A highly informative article. The linguistic style is also impressive and expressive.


I have found this article about unitasker's very enlightening. I have just finished as part of a team installing SAP in 3 national distribution centres for a major retailing company and can firmly state that the development and ultimate success of the project would not have worked as well without the existence of unitasker's within the team.


Just a comment to the posting above. Rice cookers are *not* unitaskers. They can do a lot more than cook rice. You can even make cakes in a rice cooker!

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