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"Multitasking" is a commonly-used word in computer science and has a lay meaning as well. What is the opposite of "multitasking?"

I tried "unitasking" in a recently letter to a colleague and was met with mock horror. Perhaps "singletasking" or "single-tasking" is more natural? Or another word altogether?


[EDIT]
I need the antonym in a computer science document, and "non-multitasking" is quite stilted. concentrating would have a very low probability of being correctly construed by my reader to mean "one task at a time".

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How about concentrating? Or maintaining focus, specialising, etc.? It somewhat depends on context. –  FumbleFingers Oct 11 '12 at 3:32
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Maybe focusing on a single task. Single-tasking is more common than unitasking. See this NGram –  JLG Oct 11 '12 at 3:35
    
It may help if you provide the full paragraph where you intend to use the term. Incidentally, SO/ programmersSE may also be of help: stackoverflow.com programmers.stackexchange.com –  Kris Oct 11 '12 at 3:55
    
You could talk about a serial approach to task completion –  Jim Oct 11 '12 at 4:29
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Single threading is also a common term in CS. –  Jim Oct 11 '12 at 4:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Single-tasking is by far the most common, and I would argue the most correct in the tech world -- you will find many, many references to it in technical documents. For example:

As this was a single-tasking OS, "switching between applications" meant copying data from the first application to the clipboard, then exiting the application, starting another, and pasting. MiniFinder was intended to streamline this process. (Wikipedia entry on Mac OS Finder)

or

A control system emulates a multi-tasking environment using a single tasking processor. (Xerox patent from 1975)

or a more popular tech culture reference:

Researchers Give Up Google and Discover Single Tasking (a Technoverse article from 2010)

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You could have been technically correct in saying 'unitasking', though it's not a word in formal use, yet.

Depending on the context, the right meaning can be conveyed by saying 'concentrating' or 'focusing' (alternatively, concentrated attention/ focused attention).

Considering that multitasking has its origin and prevalence in computer science literature, there's no such formal term as an antonym for it in the English language. While it is fashionable to flaunt 'computerese' such as multitasking in conversation or even formal writing, you don't say 'unitasking', which would in effect be akin to saying "I am a non-woman".


[EDIT]
In technical writing related to computers, non-multitasking is the appropriate term that correctly and completely conveys the meaning without ambiguity.

AFAIK, there's nothing stilted about it.

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I need the antonym in a computer science document, and "non-multitasking" is quite stilted. "Concentrating" would have a very low probability of being correctly construed by my reader to mean "one task at a time". –  Fixee Oct 11 '12 at 3:43
    
Let's make that clear in the original question, then. –  Kris Oct 11 '12 at 3:46
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Regarding your edit: you may not perceive "non-multitasking" as awkward, but using @JLG's NGram link, I added this term and it was essentially unused. I am going with "single-tasking" for now. –  Fixee Oct 11 '12 at 4:16

Besides single-tasking, sequential processing, serial processing, sequential tasking, serial tasking, or single threading might also work. Here's a comparison:

enter image description here

N.B. Multiprocessing might, depending on your context, be different from multitasking.

A chap named Joel Spolsky uses sequential processing as a contrast to multitasking (on CPUs):

But look at Computation A. With multitasking, its results take 19 seconds to arrive...yet with sequential processing they are ready in only 10 seconds. In other words, in this nice contrived example, the average time per computation is lower (15 seconds rather than 19.5 seconds) when you do sequential processing rather than multitasking.

There are a number of other instances of similar usage.

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Incidentally, none of these terms is a direct antonym of multitasking. Where the intention is to emphasize the point that the process is not multitasking, the simplest and direct way would be to say non-multitasking. google.com/search?q="non-multitasking"; –  Kris Oct 11 '12 at 6:33
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I'd add single threading to your list of candidates. It, too, may not be an exact antonym, but it's worth tossing into the mix. –  J.R. Oct 11 '12 at 9:53
    
@J.R. Done. Thanks. –  coleopterist Oct 11 '12 at 15:42

In some contexts, the term dedication may be useful.

the quality of being dedicated or committed to a task or purpose

It can be used as a noun.

I want dedication to this task! No more distractions

It has the benefit of a comfortable adjective and verb form.

The kids stopped multitasking and were dedicated to their homework.
The programmers dedicated the CPU to number crunching instead of managing the peripherals.
It was taken offline and became a dedicated printer, only used by the boss.

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