the myth of multitasking

If you want to get more done, you should do more. And doing more things at the same time could accomplish even more, right?


Multitasking became popular as a time-management tactic, leading people to believe that they could get more work done by doing multiple tasks simultaneously. I’m not saying that you always have to do one thing at a time, just that you should concentrate on what you are working on.

Here are two examples of productive multitasking:

While you have clothes in the washing machine, you also are cleaning the kitchen or vacuuming.

While you are printing a document, you check your voicemail.

In both examples, you have two tasks going at the same time, but you aren’t paying attention to both of them. One of the activities is going on in the background, while you attend to another.

Here are two examples of nonproductive multitasking:

While you are on the phone with a client, you are scanning your email and signing documents that your assistant hands to you.

While you are checking your child’s homework, you are texting someone on your cell phone and calling someone else on your landline.

Notice the difference? You can’t attend to multiple tasks at the same time. You may think you are, but the reality is that you are simply shifting your focus multiple times. All that shifting causes you to lose time while your brain moves back to where you were before you were interrupted by the other actions.

The next time you’re tempted to split your attention among tasks, consider whether you really are saving time or if you’re just looking for distraction.

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