Author of For the Love of Books and founder of Juniper Books Thatcher Wine returns to talk with Zibby about his latest book, The Twelve Monotasks, which encourages readers to ditch their multitasking habits. The two discuss the finer points of what it means to monotask, how Zibby has incorporated it into her work ethic, and which chapters of this book have received the most positive feedback from readers. Thatcher also shares how he learned the power of monotasking firsthand as he battled cancer and why the pandemic actually helped companies like his.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Thatcher. Thanks so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Twelve Monotasks: Do One Thing at a Time to Do Everything Better.

Thatcher Wine: Happy to be back. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Of course. I love the whole idea behind this book. I loved all the different tips and tricks and ways of thinking about — I’m always focused on how to be most efficient, so I was eating this up. Tell listeners a little bit about your theory, why we should do one thing at a time, and all of that.

Thatcher: The book is all about monotasking. Monotasking is all about doing one thing at a time. Sounds like a great idea. What do we tend to do most of the time? Multitasking. That’s probably what we’re more familiar with. We’ve been encouraged to multitask for decades now. Our devices make us think we’re good at it and enable us to do it. Multitasking, we just do it habitually. We might be on a Zoom call like this while also looking at an email or thinking about what we’re going to make for lunch. Our kids want our attention. It’s going on all around us. What I decided to do is write a whole book about the opposite of that because I realized that I was the most productive, the most successful, the most creative, the most happy, and the least stressed when I did one thing at a time. It’s really hard to do. It’s harder than it seems. The book is really all about how we can bring our attention to one thing at a time and really train to pay attention to everything in our lives so that we can call upon our monotasking muscles when we need them, when we really have some important work to do, when we have an important conversation with our kids, when we want to give our attention to a hobby, working out or something. The book lays out a really easy-to-follow plan to basically do the things you already do, like walking, reading, listening, playing, sleeping, with your full attention in order to build those monotasking muscles. Then you can call upon them for anything you need to do in life.

Zibby: I think this may be the only muscle I’ve been working on lately.

Thatcher: I’m happy to hear that.

Zibby: It’s funny because people are always asking, how are you getting everything done? A lot of times, I’m like, when I’m doing something, I’m just doing the one thing. I am doing this podcast with you. I cannot do anything else. I am reading your book. I cannot do anything else. There is something about having all of the horsepower focused in one lane versus spread out. I do think it’s the secret sauce to getting everything done. I love that you kick it all off with a chapter on reading and how important that is. Juniper Books, your whole business, and life, is about the power of books and all of that. Talk to me a little bit about that and why reading is so huge and important.

Thatcher: I love talking about reading. I know you do too.

Zibby: We could just talk about that.

Thatcher: To follow up on one thing you just said, though, monotasking is not about doing less in life overall. It’s about doing all the things. You do an amazing number of things. You’re super productive. I’m happy to hear when you do each one of those, you give it your full attention.

Zibby: I’m not perfect. Not always. Not when the kids are around, maybe.

Thatcher: Neither am I. The world is very distracting. Everything always wants our attention. Part of it’s just having the awareness, it’s going to be distracting. There are going to be a lot of things that get in the way of giving my full attention to one thing, but I’m going to try. Sometimes I’m not going to do it by choice, but it’s going to be my choice, hopefully not a social media company’s algorithm that’s distracting me. Back to reading because that’s fun to talk about, I’ve had the company Juniper Books for over twenty years now. Basically, we curate beautiful libraries and make these special-edition book sets, like seven different editions of Harry Potter and lots of beloved classics and also a lot of contemporary books too. We create these custom book covers. I think a lot about books. Why do I spend my career selling books and encouraging people to read and have a lot of beautiful books in their home like you do behind you? I think about books not only being entertaining and informative, but really being kind of the antidote to our phones. Our phones fragment our attention and distract us and force us to multitask.

Books make us consolidate our attention all in one place, on the printed page ideally, but audiobooks and e-books are great too. Any way you’re reading is really great. We really have to pay attention when we’re reading. When I started thinking about writing this book about monotasking, I thought of reading as the ultimate monotask. You have to give your full attention to the book. Otherwise, you’re not going to get anything. You can pretend to flip the pages, but you’re going to have to go back. I know there are other ways that you’ve talked about absorbing the content in books because you have to read so many books, but even that is a monotask in itself. You’re giving your full attention. You’ve developed a way to summarize the book quickly and understand it. I think books are really good for it, good for us, good for our brains, good for our attention span, our ability to pay attention and focus in life. Then we carry that forward to other activities. People that tend to be very successful and productive also tend to be readers.

Zibby: My preference is not to have to go through so many books so fast, but I did, yes, write a piece on how I do it, breadth versus — especially on the podcast right now, I’m like, the more the merrier. I can’t always sit and do it slowly, but that is my preference, obviously. Although, I think reading is not a fixed skill, which I don’t feel like enough people talk about. You can definitely speed up your reading. It keeps getting faster the more you do it, I think. Have you noticed that with you, or no?

Thatcher: Yes and no. I’m not a very fast reader. I don’t know. I’ve never really tried to speed it up. I just always kind of stay at the same pace, and that’s okay.

Zibby: I didn’t mean to speed it up. I just sort of noticed that the more I was reading, it was speeding up. Anyway, just pay attention.

Thatcher: That’s great. I’m going to monotask my reading now and see if I can work on my skills.

Zibby: It wasn’t until somebody asked me how many minutes per page, how many words per — I was like, what? I don’t know. Some quantitative guy I knew. I was like, I don’t know, I guess I’ll measure it. Then I measured it a year later. It was markedly different. Your other things, like walking, for example, every so often, I walk, but I often use that as an excuse to do something else. That’s not one that I monotask, but now I feel like I should thanks to your book. I’m on the phone. I’m chatting with somebody. I’m not usually just out walking.

Thatcher: It’s hard.

Zibby: What happens when you do that?

Thatcher: We’ve been encouraged to always think of any free time that we have like we should fill it. Something like a walk seems kind of easy. Our body knows what to do, so we might as well fill the other time that we have while we’re on the walk with listening to an audiobook or a podcast or making a call or scrolling through our phones, hopefully without bumping into something. The opposite of that is to say, I’m just going to go for a walk and pay attention to the walk. I’m either going to leave my phone at home or leave it in my pocket. I’m going to see things I’ve never seen before. I’m going to hear sounds I’ve never heard before. I’m going to take a route, maybe, I’ve never used before. You live in New York City. Maybe you’re going to smell something, hopefully good, a bakery or something, that you didn’t notice before.

Zibby: I don’t need to smell any new bakeries. I am overwhelmed with baked goods, the temptations of them, I should say.

Thatcher: Monotask your bakery avoidance. Just by being fully present in our bodies and our minds on something like a walk is really good for us. It helps us build our ability to pay attention to everything in life. We can really detach from work and stress and all of our commitments and thinking about the past and the future and all that if we can really just be on the walk. You don’t have to go out for hours and hours. Go for five minutes or twenty minutes. It’s just a really good reset to then be able to come back to your desk or whatever you need to do refreshed.

Zibby: You talk in the book throughout the chapters about your own battle with cancer a while back and how the treatments of that made it very hard for you to do a lot after you were so exhausted. It made you have to be very strategic about what you did. Tell me more about that.

Thatcher: It was very formative in my monotasking practice and thinking about it because I was truly physically forced to do one thing at a time with the minimal amount of energy that I had from going through chemotherapy for about four months. I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had three tumors in my chest and went through a pretty grueling chemo regimen. I’m a very optimistic, energetic person, so I tried to keep up appearances, kept working, kept trying to be as creative as possible, but definitely hit my limit and had to learn how to really plan to do some of the things I needed to do but with a minimal expenditure of energy. I wrote about how I’d going for a walk and when I got to the end of the street, I had to really think about, did I have the energy to go down the hill, around the corner, and back up the hill, or should I just go straight back and forth? It was important to me to physically move my body and get out for some fresh air. Maybe one of my kids would come with me. I really had to think about it. That made me think, whatever people are going through, they may not have that choice be so clear. It might feel like you have an abundance of energy, so you are going to do ten things at once. You are going to train for the marathon and start three companies and do this and that. It’s not always the best decision for us and for our brains especially that can become kind of fragmented and splintered.

Zibby: Since the book has come out — it was several months ago that it came out at this point. What have you been surprised about? What has happened since it’s come out or conversations that you’ve had that perhaps you weren’t expecting? Are more people monotasking than you thought, or fewer people? Have people tried it? Failed? Succeeded? What’s your take on the whole thing now that it’s out there?

Thatcher: That’s a great question. There are definitely a bunch of things that I anticipated and other things that are new. Overall, I love the reception that the book has gotten. People really feel like the book and the idea of monotasking kind of gives them permission for something that they already knew intuitively. They were overwhelmed. They were doing too many things. Nobody in this world says, slow down. Do one thing at a time. It’s okay. You don’t have to keep up with everybody on social media and have all the side hustles and all that. That’s been great. I’ve definitely gotten some of the criticism that I may have anticipated, which is, this is unrealistic. I have bills to pay. I have kids to take care of. I’m working from home for the past two years. What do you expect me to do? How do I do this? I think that’s all very fair and realistic. I’m saying, you don’t have to monotask all day long every day. Do it some of the time. Just take a break and go for that walk we talked about. In the morning, reach for a book instead of your phone. There are lots of little things we can do to reclaim our attention. I realize it is hard, especially during the pandemic and with all the demands that people have. A lot of people joke, and I was sort of anticipating this, oh, I listened to your book while I was out for a run or doing my taxes. I didn’t like it. It didn’t make any sense. It’s like, you’re multitasking. I know they’re making a joke about it. You have to meet people where they are. It’s not an overnight, magic-wand kind of change. If you are listening to the audiobook version of my book while running, that’s great. If you can then apply some of the tips to getting better sleep, even better.

Zibby: Sleep is such a challenge. That is one thing you can’t do while you’re doing anything else, so I guess that’s good. I think it’s the lead-up to sleep and the focus of all the sleep habits that get lost very easily, but oh, well.

Thatcher: A lot of people have said the listening chapter and the sleeping chapter are the two that have really changed their lives the most. We all need more sleep and most rest.

Zibby: I know, I know, I know. You convinced me. I was like, I know. I loved the listening chapter. I love listening. I love listening to people talk. I love conversations. There’s nothing more than, I’m like, “What’s your story?” that I love. I can just sit back and kick it and whatever. I do feel that a lot of time, people are already thinking about what to say. There’s all this anxiety behind the conversation versus just letting it go and sinking into it. Of course, that really changes the quality of the conversation as opposed to having it be more open-ended where you get to take it in and then respond versus in school where I had my next comment on the paper ready to go so I wouldn’t forget it. Power of listening.

Thatcher: Sorry, what did you say? No, I’m just kidding. While you were saying that, I was watching your dog get up from the rug and go over to the couch.

Zibby: Sorry, this is her room.

Thatcher: She looks very cozy. You’re a professional listener, so you get to practice monotasking listening in your podcast interviews all the time. You do a lot of them. I don’t know, in the same way as reading, maybe you’ve tracked how your listening skills have evolved.

Zibby: I have not.

Thatcher: But your listeners appreciate it. Your audience has grown. It’s definitely noticeable when people are really good listeners and they’re paying attention. Like you said, nobody tells you, really, how to listen in life. You just kind of figure it out, maybe. A lot of people become bad listeners. Then these days, most people, I would say, just half pay attention in conversations. If I had my phone out right now — well, on a podcast it would be different. If we were having coffee and I had my phone out, it wouldn’t be that abnormal, right?

Zibby: Yeah.

Thatcher: It might be more unusual if I was fully paying attention and you were like, wait, you’re making me uncomfortable. You’re not using your phone? You’re really listening to me? I think it’s a great skill to have. I think people really appreciate it, whether it’s professionally or personally. People really value the good listeners in their lives. They notice. Whether they can call it out or not is different, but they notice when you’re really listening versus just waiting for your turn to speak and you’ve already thought about what you’re going to say, and it doesn’t really matter what I said. I think that listening skill is really important. You can monotask it and give yourself permission to fully pay attention to a conversation. It has big benefits.

Zibby: Meanwhile, my kids don’t listen at all. I can’t even get through a sentence. They’re interrupting me, interrupting each other. I’m like, where did the idea go of one person speaking at a time? The dinner table, I’m a total failure in that regard, I have to say.

Thatcher: It’s hard. My kids are thirteen and fifteen now. Usually, it’s their phone that’s taking their attention away from the conversation or whatever I’m asking them to do. That’s really hard. I definitely empathize with parents everywhere as we’re trying to figure this out in real time, how to get our kids’ attention. I did come back to the other question you had asked me. I knew that once I wrote the book, I had to be really good at monotasking, essentially. There are a lot of times I’m sitting around the dinner table here with the kids and I’m like, gosh, I hope nobody has a telephoto lens taking pictures of our dinner table with the kids’, their phones out. The monotasking guy and his kids, this is really what goes on at home, but that’s reality. I do have all sorts of tips for parents and people. We can get into those at any time if you want.

Zibby: Give me one tip. Give me just one.

Thatcher: Please help. As far as eating and phones and listening, as those three things come together, one thing is to have a place in your home where there are no phones allowed.

Zibby: I try to make that the dining room. I really do. I put my phone in the kitchen. Then we close the door, but it doesn’t always work. As I interrupt you, by the way.

Thatcher: No, that’s okay. You’re like, that’s not realistic. Wherever you are could be, okay, now we’re going to start to go out to dinner every Thursday night. We’re not going to bring our phones. Basically, start a new habit from wherever you are. If it’s too hard to change, the dining room has kind of atrophied, be like, okay, now we’re going to change to this behavior. It might be, one night a week, we’re just not going to have phones at the table. One night a week, we’re going to go out to dinner, and we’re not going to bring our phones. Things like that. Basically, make a clean agreement with your family about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to pay attention to each other. Then have it basically be better than when they’re on their phones, which is really hard for kids because they want to talk to their friends and all that. You basically have to propose a better alternative that’s more fun, more engaging. A lot of that comes from you personally monotasking it and being fully present, telling stories from your childhood or something. My kids always get a kick out of that.

Zibby: It’s true. Maybe tonight I’ll try making a little piece of paper as we walk in, like handing someone, “I am ready to pay attention to everybody at the dinner table.” We all walk in. I feel like we need some sort of big headspace shift.

Thatcher: Making that conscious decision is important, and teaching kids that they can do that too. As adults, we might be more aware of when we’re like, we used to do this, and now we’re going to do that. With kids, enabling and empowering them to make that decision can be great for them.

Zibby: What is the latest with Juniper Books? What’s going on there?

Thatcher: It’s been incredibly busy since we last talked. I was first on your podcast when For the Love of Books: Designing and Curating a Home Library came out. That was my first book, a beautiful coffee table book all about the business. Then three months later, the pandemic started. Initially, people were staying home and reading more, so they were buying more books. Then this whole trend of redecorating and remodeling, everyone’s looking at their shelves on a Zoom call and saying, oh, I could do better. I should have nicer books. That led to a lot more orders. People weren’t traveling, so they were sending more gifts. Books make great gifts, especially book sets that we offer. All three of those trends have made us incredibly busy. We’ve been able to help get books into a lot more homes over the last couple years. We’ve introduced probably thirty or forty new book sets since then in that two-year period. Wheel of Time is super popular, fifteen-book set; Sarah J. Maas, Court of Thorns and Roses. We just introduce more and more sets as people have asked for them. We’ve come up with really cool designs. We’re always redesigning some of our previous best-sellers and introducing new options. We’re working on a Percy Jackson set right now. We’re just having a lot of fun with books at the intersection of books and design. Never gets old.

Zibby: It’s so cool. I love the one you did where — all the people who blurbed my first anthology. You put the logo of the girl. I feel like you should try to sell that. Maybe people would buy it.

Thatcher: With your books?

Zibby: With the ones that I had picked because those were all amazing books. You could put it in the catalog. Tell me if anybody buys it. People comment on it all the time. It’s in my dining room. People love it.

Thatcher: Oh, really? Okay. With custom orders like that, about a quarter of the business these days is purely custom. You could say, I want a special gift for my wife. She loves this author. We have a new house, and we want to do this for our kids’ rooms. My friend is an interior designer, and they need help with a hotel lobby. It’s all one-of-a-kind kind of projects. When we do those projects like we did for you, we don’t turn them into products unless we have a conversation that you say, you should do that. Can we do that? You have permission to do that. Now that we’ve had this conversation, though, I will talk to my team.

Zibby: I think it would be so fun. We could do different books. We could do a fiction set or a memoir set. I don’t know.

Thatcher: I love having guest curators or curator collaborations, so we should definitely talk about that.

Zibby: I would love that. That sounds really fun. That would be great. Now I have you on the record saying that.

Thatcher: It’s always fun. Your logo is super fun and looks great across the books too.

Zibby: I love how it turned out. I just love what you did. That would be so fun. I would love it. What is coming next for you? What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Thatcher: I’m basically trying to share the message of monotasking with the world in various ways. I’m trying to, honestly, figure out the right amount of marketing because a lot of the message in the book is about not being on social media, but I have to use social media for people to discover me. I’m trying to crack that code.

Zibby: I get it.

Thatcher: Basically, doing that, doing a little bit more speaking about monotasking and really just trying to introduce the subject to the world and a larger audience, especially, like we’ve talked about, at this very overwhelming, stressful time that we live in. I am writing more. I started a novel years ago. I really want to finish that. I’m basically trying to put my own monotasking practice to work so that I can do all the things that I love to do, running Juniper Books, sharing the message of monotasking, and doing new creative projects. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, meaning the next couple years, I can finish that and maybe write another monotasking book. We’ll see. For authors, there’s a whole chapter in the book about creating. A lot of the ideas in there are things that I’ve come up with over the years running my business as an entrepreneur, being the creative director of the company, and also as a writer. I got the book deal for The Twelve Monotasks two years ago during the week that everything shut down, that March 13th, or whatever it was, 2020. Then I was like, oh, this is great. I’ll be at home. I can write the book. It didn’t quite work out that way because my whole team at the office had to go home. I had to run the business solo for a little while. A lot of the ideas, though, I was forced to come up with to figure out, okay, here’s how to really pay attention when you need to, how to be productive and get something done, like a creative project such as a book.

People have all sorts of productivity methods. I’m not saying any one of them works for all people. Even the tips in my book, there’s so many of them, you can just pick and choose what works. It’s not like you have to follow this method. To me, a lot of it’s about having a space to write that is where I focus. I wear these headphones all the time. Usually, they don’t have music on. They’re a signal to me that I should focus. I’m going to pay attention. I work a lot on the ergonomics of my set-up because I don’t want to be distracted thinking about anything else. I have mixed feelings about my desktop and all these focus-mode kind of things. I basically just am very disciplined. I don’t look at anything else while I’m writing. That doesn’t work for everybody. I definitely turn off my phone or put it on “do not disturb,” close all the other windows and just have one window open and set a realistic goal. It’s not like I’m going to write five chapters in a day. It’s going to be like, I’m going to work on this one section, get it done, go for a walk, take a break, maybe take a nap. All those things are really important. The productivity and the creativity doesn’t just come from saying, I’m going to get this done. I’m going to sit at my desk until I get it done. It comes from all the other things. That’s really a lot of what the book is about, the sustainability of life through monotasking. Make sure you make time for the rest, the reset button of going for a walk or getting some exercise. I try to break up my day into a few different segments, or at least two segments, so that I get a lot done in the morning and a lot done in the afternoon. I take a pretty lengthy break in the middle.

Zibby: That sounds nice.

Thatcher: I know, right? Time for a nap.

Zibby: As I view my day where I have not even a minute until I pick up the kids.

Thatcher: It works great. You know, what you’re doing works for you.

Zibby: Yeah, whatever, or it doesn’t, but it is what it is. What’s the best way for people to find you?

Thatcher: I have a couple websites. You can find me at You can find me at, which is a website I created as the companion to the book. There are some additional tips. I’m eventually going to be sharing some scientific research about monotasking versus multitasking and things like that as studies come out. Then Juniper Books, if you’re interested in that, is at Lots of fun stuff to look at for book lovers everywhere. We’re on Instagram and all the social media places as well. I love hearing from readers and listeners who try monotasking and tell me what works for them and how it’s changed their life. I’d look forward to hearing from people.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you, Thatcher. This was great. Now we can talk about some cool collaboration and then sell some awesome products or something. I’m excited.

Thatcher: Sounds good, yes. We will make book lovers happy everywhere.

Zibby: Great. You already do. Thanks so much. Have a great day.

Thatcher: Thanks, Zibby. Thanks for having me on.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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