The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Posted on 17. Mar, 2010 by in Articles

At first glance, the concept of multi-tasking seems like a great way to save time…images like these spring to mind:

  • being on the phone while cooking up a storm,
  • sleeping while listening to a subliminal CD on “Fluent french in 30 days”,
  • The dynamo secretary that’s whizzing around on her computer chair, knocking off tasks like a demon.

However, problems arise when we try and do more than one thing…but really shouldn’t. This leads to the REVERSE of what we’re trying to achieve >> saving time.

So when should you multi-task? When the activity you’re doing can be done on auto-pilot, you can then add another one.

  • Should I drive my car while making a phone call? Well, if you’re not a learner, then yes!
  • Can I check my inbox while procrastinating about something else? That’s inefficient! You’ll do a better job if you set aside some devoted time for procrastination later!

Why is Multi-Tasking a Myth?

Read these 2 questions (without trying to answer them).

  1. What was the first movie  you saw as a child?
  2. What is 17 times 8?

Now, go ahead and answer BOTH questions at the same time.

The human brain can only focus on one thing at a time…computers too. Even when multi-tasking occurs in a computer, it’s really switching back and forth between tasks so quickly, that it “looks” like it’s doing two things at once.

Multi-Tasking vs Laser Focus

Let’s say it’s 2pm, and you have 3 tasks left before 5pm. Each of these tasks takes approximately 1 hour:

  1. Writing a report
  2. Solving a tricky problem
  3. Calling 5 people for work (that you’re not looking forward to speaking with!)

Multi-tasking means that you’ll get on the phone and dial. While you’re on hold, you’ll start writing the report. Then you’ll get sidetracked by the phone conversation. You hang up the phone, send that follow-up email, go back to the report and then dial again!

By 4pm, you still have not completed any tasks fully. In the back of your mind, you’re also thinking of how to solve that tricky problem. You’re a bit stressed about it, and power through because you have “so much left to do”.

End result: Finish at 5:15pm with a bit of stress along the way.

Laser focus means you  fully devote your time and attention to writing the report. This gets finished at 3pm. Then you start calling people. While on hold, you may brainstorm ideas on solving the tricky problem (since  being on hold is auto-pilot for you…well, I hope so anyhow!).

End result: Finish at 4:45pm without much stress at all.

The moral of the story? Focusing on one thing at a time is quicker and less stressful...with the exception of things that can be done on auto-pilot.

4 Responses to “The Myth of Multi-Tasking”

  1. davenycity

    15. Sep, 2010

    great blog thank you

  2. the valuable ideas u presented do help our team’s investigation for our company, appreaciate that.

    - Lucas

  3. Form Script

    06. Oct, 2010

    I am doing research for my college paper, thanks for your excellent points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

    - Laura

  4. Daniel

    18. Dec, 2010

    great post, thanks for sharing

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