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Debunking the Myth of Multi-Tasking

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Do you find yourself checking the news on your phone…getting your child’s home school lesson started, while listening to a conference call…and making coffee all the same time.? This scenario is likely more common place as we juggle working from home and dealing with the increased demands of shelter in place restrictions. For those fortunate enough to have kept their position and your company has pivoted you to work remotely, you may feel the need to multitask more than ever before. Working from home, while also having the kids and extended family at home can create a chaotic environment in which you work. Many will try to become masters of multi-tasking, but is that the best approach?

The benefits and ability to multi-task has been debated for years. Recent studies, indicate that human brains can do simply and uncomplicated tasks simultaneously relatively adequately. That is good news. Most of us can chew gum and walk at the same time. WOO HOO! However, the same studies show that trying to execute multiple complex tasks at the same time, can actually lead to negative outcomes and can actually be dangerous. This may seem like hyperbole but consider this example -Driving and Texting. Both of these are considered complex tasks and human attempt to do this regularly and it can result in devastating outcomes. We are all guilt of this. While most of us have been luckier than others, the odds of experiencing a tragic outcome, if we keep repeating this behavior, gets higher every time.

Multi-tasking while seemingly looks like a good idea and a time saver it isn’t necessarily the recipe of success. It helps you check the boxes on your to do list, but it doesn’t guarantee you did them well. Because when engaging in intricate activities or detailed work, trying to multi-task will make the outcome less than optimal. When your attention is divided you are 1) bound to miss critical information 2) fail to recognize risks 3) overlook vital details needed to make good decisions. All three of these will lead to an output that is incomplete or mediocre.

“What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says” (MacMillan, 2016).


Task-switching also slows you down. Consistent interruptions, trying to move from task to task actually slows your progress as your brain neurons fire aimlessly. These shifts and switches will lead to mistakes especially if the project is complicated and highly detailed. But because you aren’t focused on the project you will miss the errors which will lead to re-work and equals time wasted.

Multi-tasking also increases stress. “When University of California, Irvine researches measured the heart rates of employees with and without constant access to office email, they found that those who received a steady stream of messages stayed in a perpetual “high alert” mode with higher heart rates. Those without constant email access did less multitasking and were less stressed because of it” (MacMillian, 2016).

In the same article, experts also point out that memory, retention and recall are negatively impacted if you don’t dedicate the focus needed when working on multi-faceted projects. Additionally, your creative skills will be dampened and diluted when switching from tasks to task too quickly and haphazardly.

Finally, study after study tells us that we, humans (and that includes you), aren’t actually good at doing two complex activities at the same time. We don’t actually don’t have the cognitive skills to handle two complicated activities. We are not that evolved…

Still not convinced? Still think you are master multi-tasker? Consider the statistics on texting and driving. The most updated information is from 2017. The results don’t bode well for multi-taskers.

  • 3,166 people were killed by distracted driving in 2017
  • In 2017, there were 34,247 distracted driving accident
  • The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
  • Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.


I know what you are thinking…It’s likely while you are at work, you aren’t doing two tasks at once that could lead to death or injury, but these statistics infer that humans need to focus and work on projects in batches to maximize results. Precision requires focus. It requires dedicated time. To raise you value, stop focusing the number of tasks you do, focus on how many you are doing well, the first time, without needed rework.

It’s quality not quantity that actually make a difference. Being a bit single-minded when doing your work can lead you to become a true master.


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