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The Myth of Multitasking

Mar 07, 2023

How are you at multi-tasking? While many people take pride in their ability to multi-task, it might surprise you to know what the scientific research tells us about it. 

Psychiatrists have conducted multiple studies that ultimately indicate that the ability for humans to multitask is largely a myth, although there are some exceptions.

The brain cannot fully focus when multi-tasking, and so people take longer to complete tasks and are predisposed to error.  What happens is that your brain switches back and forth—maybe quickly – between tasks.

According to Harvard Business Review, a large body of research shows that multitasking reduces productivity by as much as 40%. Because multitasking feels more productive than doing just one thing, it’s easy to overlook the accumulation of “switching costs” (shifting between tasks).

When the brain is compelled to continually restart and refocus, it can be really exhausting, especially compared to doing single tasks sequentially. Multi-tasking may feel efficient but, since your attention is fragmented, it is impossible to be truly present. It strains your brain and leads to mental exhaustion.

Another potential downside is that it gives the impression to others that you are overly responsive to random events and unable to sustain your focus and attention.

Research on high performance has found that greater productivity can be achieved by focusing on one task at a time and taking frequent breaks to rest the brain.  It may seem counter-productive, but when you are tempted to multi-task, try this instead:

  • Practice focusing on one task at a time.
  • Decide on the best use of your time for the next 45 minutes, based on your priorities for the day.
  • Set an alarm for 45 minutes.
  • Work diligently on that one task without interruption until the alarm sounds.
  • Take a 5-minute break. Stand up, walk around, stretch, close your eyes. If you need to check in with others, do it now.
  • Repeat this process for as many times in a row as you can.

When you learn to focus on one task at a time and schedule your calendar accordingly, you will accomplish much more throughout your day and week. I have taught this process to many of my clients with great results in improved daily productivity.  When I do it myself consistently, I have experienced getting more done in less time with fewer mistakes and decreased stress.

Try it and let me know about your experience.  And do share this post with anyone who can benefit by increasing their productivity.

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