Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work

Woman with six arms - using phone, diary, pens and laptop.

You wouldn’t drink and drive. But would you drink and write?

Maybe a glass of wine could be just the thing to get you started on that poem to your sweetheart.

But how about a few beers before writing an important e-mail? Or a business proposal?

Could you do with a shot of whisky before taking a phone call from a client? How about some Dutch courage before a big presentation?

It sounds absurd when I put it like that. But did you know that there is strong research evidence that the popular working practice of multitasking can reduce your performance level to that of a drunk?

Here’s molecular biologist John Medina on the subject of multitasking while driving:

Until researchers started measuring the effects of cell phone distractions under controlled conditions, nobody had any idea how profoundly they can impair a driver. It’s like driving drunk … Cell-phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies, slower to return to normal speed after an emergency, and more wild in their “following distance” behind the vehicle in front of them… More than 50% of the visual cues spotted by attentive drivers are missed by cell-phone talkers. Not surprisingly, they get in more wrecks than anyone except very drunk drivers.

(John Medina, Brain Rules)

That may sound like an extreme example, but by attempting two tasks simultaneously (driving and talking on the phone) these drivers were essentially doing the same thing as an office worker who is simultaneously writing a document, checking and responding to e-mail, fielding phone calls, surfing the web and/or engaging in conversations via social networking sites.

Yet multitasking is often spoken of with approval, a skill to be cultivated. Multitaskers are admired for their efficiency and seen as people who get things done.

Don’t get me wrong – multitasking would be great, if it existed. But it doesn’t.

There’s No Such Thing As Multitasking

In Brain Rules, Medina points out that the brain cannot multitask:

Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. At first that might sound confusing; at one level the brain does multitask. You can walk and talk at the same time. Your brain controls your heartbeat while you read a book. A pianist can play a piece with left hand and right hand simultaneously. Surely this is multitasking. But I am talking about the brain’s ability to pay attention… To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.

If you’ve ever put on a CD to listen to while working, and then noticed with surprise that the music has finished and you can’t remember hearing any of it, you’ll know what Medina is talking about. Because we can only concentrate on one thing at a time, when we try to do multiple tasks that require attention, we end up switching between tasks, not doing them simultaneously.

Business coach Dave Crenshaw, author of the book The Myth of Multitasking, makes the same point:

When I speak of multitasking as most people understand it, I am not referring to doing something completely mindless and mundane in the background such as exercising while listening to this CD, eating dinner and watching a show, or having the copy machine operate in the background while you answer emails. For clarity’s sake, I call this ‘background tasking’.

When most people refer to multitasking they mean simultaneously performing two or more things that require mental effort and attention. Examples would include saying we’re spending time with family while were researching stocks online, attempting to listen to a CD and answering email at the same time, or pretending to listen to an employee while we are crunching the numbers.

(Dave Crenshaw, Switchtasking)

So there’s no such thing as multitasking. Just task switching – or at best, background tasking, in which one activity consumes our attention while we’re mindlessly performing another.

How Task Switching Affects Your Work

We’ve already seen that multitasking on the road is the equivalent of drinking and driving. Other research cited by Medina shows that people who are interrupted – and therefore have to switch their attention back and forth – take 50% longer to accomplish a task, and make up to 50% more errors.

When I trained in hypnosis, we were taught that one of the easiest ways to create amnesia is to interrupt someone. Have you ever had the experience of chatting to a friend in a cafe or restaurant, when the waiter interrupts to take your order – and when he’s gone, neither of you can remember what you were talking about?

This effect is so powerful that it even happens when you’re fully aware of what’s going on. I remember it happening when I had coffee with Johnnie Moore a few months ago – we were amused to discover that even though both knew what had happened, it took us 20 minutes to remember what we had been discussing when the waiter arrived.

As well as amnesia, task switching creates delays. According to Medina, each time you switch tasks, your brain has to run through a four-step process to disengage the neurons involved in one task and activate the neurons needed for the other. The more you switch, the more time you lose.

More research, reported by the New York Times, has attempted to quantify the effect of interruptions and multitasking on office productivity:

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

The productivity lost by overtaxed multitaskers cannot be measured precisely, but it is probably a lot. Jonathan B. Spira, chief analyst at Basex, a business-research firm, estimates the cost of interruptions to the American economy at nearly $650 billion a year.

So next time you’re tempted to ‘multitask’ and ‘switch effortlessly’ between phone, e-mail, word processor and web browser, you might like to stop and think about the likely effect on your productivity – and ultimately, your profitability.

Focus Creates Creative Flow

If overtaxed multitasking is so unproductive, what does a high-performance state look like? We’ve already caught a glimpse of it on Lateral Action, in psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of creative flow.

Flow is a state of consciousness experienced during periods of peak performance. It’s characteristics include pleasure, clarity, serenity and timelessness – and focus. In Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s words, during flow we are “completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated”.

Whereas our limited attention bandwidth is a hindrance when it comes to multitasking, it is a positive advantage when it comes to flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, when we devote all our attention to the task in hand, we tune out distractions from our environment, and can even lose our sense of self. Here’s Csikszentmihalyi’s description of a composer in the act of writing music:

When you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new – as this man does – he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired, his body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness because he doesn’t have enough attention, like none of us do, to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration and at the same time to feel that he exists.

(From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk about creative flow)

How to Be Single Minded

It’s not rocket science. It’s not even news. Medina, Crenshaw and Csikszentmihalyi are hardly the first to tell us to do one thing at a time:

“When you are walking, walk. When you are sitting, sit.” ~ The Buddha

“Always do one thing at a time, that of the present moment.” ~ George Gurdjieff

You may not be as hard-core as the Buddha or Gurdjieff. Russell Davies points out that there’s a lot to be said for distractions and interruptions – they stimulate our creativity and are part of what makes us human.

First thing in the morning and towards the end of the afternoon, I like nothing better than to idly flick through my blog feeds while chatting and following links on Twitter. But when it’s time to get down to work, it’s time to switch all that stuff off.

So feel free to let your attention wander across multiple software applications, browser tabs, e-mail, Twitter, instant messaging, phone calls, and the music playing in the background.

Just don’t confuse it with being productive.

Multitasking and You

Do you believe in multitasking?

What effect do you notice when you try to do several tasks simultaneously, vs doing one thing at a time?

What were we talking about just now? 🙂

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach and co-founder of Lateral Action. Subscribe today to get free updates by email or RSS.

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Responses to this Post

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. At Long Last, Link Love | August 5, 2009
  2. powerpointing 2g « bizcom2g | August 14, 2011
  3. So You Think You Can Multitask? | February 9, 2012


  1. I don’t believe in multitasking, we are just not made to work that way. It’s nice to see the research you have done in order to support that view. Thanks!

  2. Yay! Now I have an excuse for having a one-track mind. LOL. Seriously, I think it’s because it’s so easy for me to get in the flow of my work, everything else just falls away. That makes it hard for me to set boundaries and take care of other tasks that need to be done.

    I think I will send this to my husband (who works with me…and makes fun of me, I should note). Take that! Multi-tasking doesn’t exist! HaHA!


  3. Based on the way the brain is wired (as illustrated by the old “rub your tummy and pat your head” exercise), “multi-tasking” is actually “rapid task switching”.

  4. Thanks for trying to drive a stake through the heart of the multi-tasking vampire myth. (Sucks time, not blood). It almost makes you want companies to have ‘focus time’ even for just an hour or two a day. No meetings, no telephones, just concentration. Could be the next big boost to productivity.

  5. I enjoyed this, I’ve never been able to study or work (really work) listening to music or chatting to the degree where I now use earplugs if I’m really concentrating because I find it focuses me even more.

    When I first began working for myself I was concerned I’d miss the banter of the office but I’ve found by being more productive I am much more relaxed once my work is done, and just as I would rather concentrate all my attention to my work, if I’m seeing my friends I would rather do it properly and concentrate my attention on catching up with them rather than settling for some snatched chatter in the tea room.

    Having said all this, I was in the middle of writing an article when I thought I’d check what was going on over at Lateral Action…

    Earplugs back in now 🙂

  6. Never saw listening to music as I am working away as a multitask. I use the music to drown off the background conversation. It helps me concentrate on my task at hand.

    However as I read this blog, I changed my online radio station, checked personal email account then responded to some Facebook comments. I like the term task switching better then multitasking. Because I didn’t read and… instead I stopped reading then I…

    Thanks for the blog.

  7. A good reminder that being online while someone is talking to you is “being online” and not being “there” for the person.

  8. totally agreed, multi-tasking is impossible. every time i attempt to do more than 1 thing at a time, absolutely nothing gets done. somehow in this culture, multi-tasking is a desired skill, a desired skill that leads to a useless experience

  9. I really look down on multi-tasking. It can get stressful and my experiences with it are it just makes you really scattered mentally. “Wait. What was I doing?”

    However, I’m a firm FIRM believer in focused chunks of time. If you get just a few of those in during the day, you’ll see your productivity skyrocket in only 1/3rd of the time it would normally take you.


  10. The only time you can effectively multitask is when 1 of the tasks is done subconsciously and requires virtually no thought such as walking, turning on computers, opening programs etc. As soon as you have to think about what you are doing, your mind starts to bounces back and forth, thus slowing down productivity and increasing the chance for mistakes.

  11. “Flow is a state of consciousness experienced during periods of peak performance. It’s characteristics include pleasure, clarity, serenity and timelessness – and focus.”

    I’d add to this the idea of rapid-tasking: more of an organizational model to achieve flow. Essentially, if I can group tangentially related items (often mindlessly from aggregators, Twitter and other sources), and later knock them out in quick succession, I find one informs the other. For instance, an article, a new website and a viral video may trigger something to inform a new marketing strategy. Even if the “research” doesn’t relate exactly to the task at hand, it gets my mind working to find connections.

    Great post.

  12. Great post and something I’ve been touting for a while.

    There’s another aspect to multi-tasking: there’s a certain bravado, a certain pride when people are multi-tasking -it’s almost like people want to be seen, and expect to be rewarded as multi-taskers not as those mental midgets who only do one thing at a time…

  13. I firmly believe that there’s no such thing as multitasking, so thank you very much for this post! Tweeting it!

  14. Great article. I agree that multi-tasking has been touted as an ability to aspire to, when it is, in fact, “impossible.”

    I learned and began practicing single-tasking about a decade ago and it’s made a huge difference in not only what I’m able to accomplish, but in what my clients are able to achieve.

    When things get super busy, I still find myself having to wrestle with the temptation to slip back into old rapid task-switching habits. I have to stay very vigilant and mindful even after all these years.

    Thanks for making a great case for this critical success, productivity and sanity strategy, Mark.

  15. Holy crap this is an awesome post. I want to show it to every person who has ever criticized me for not being good at doing multiple things at once. I am so against multitasking, so I loved reading this.

  16. The demands of the social web are killing my focus. So many signals, pings, e-mails – and it all takes so much energy out of me.

  17. Point well taken the first two times I tried to read this post. Why? Because people were talking to me, a cat was meowing at me, the phone rang & I had to answer it, and I was trying to write something and had to just flag it to read later. This happened twice in a row.

    I know as well as anyone that I’m no master of multitasking but I’m OK at “task switching,” however the music thing is interesting because I’ve found that I absolutely CANNOT read and/or write anything if I’m listening to music with lyrics, but switch me to anything instrumental or downtempo/electronica as background music and I’m the most productive person in the world. I guess I just don’t like other people’s words trying to fight with the words in my head I’m trying to read or get out while typing.

  18. While I agree that multitasking is not the way to get anything done, I think there’s a misinterpretation about how the brain is working here:

    “Cell-phone talkers are a half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies, slower to return to normal speed after an emergency, and more wild in their “following distance” behind the vehicle in front of them…”

    Cell phone users are breaking slower in emergencies because this is not part of the normal driving process, i.e. it’s ‘open loop behaviour’. ‘Closed loop behaviour’ such as changing gear and indicating will happen as normal. Obviously it’s stupid and dangerous! I’m just picking up the example. Behaviours that are repeated a lot can be performed while doing other tasks even if they are a response to stimulus (e.g. changing gear). On a factory production line for example, workers could easily perform repetitive tasks while chatting and listening to music.

    Personally I find that I get more done if I switch between creative and non-creative tasks regularly.

  19. I’ve read Crenshaw’s Myth Multitasking book and have to say that its a very good primer on this subject. It’s written in a story format, kind of like one minute manager.


  20. The irony of this very valuable research is that people ever believed they could do two things at once in spite of the obvious anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Think: Father behind the morning paper grunting responses to his wife and kids. Think: Boss reading e-mail while staff member tries to talk to her. Think: Two dinner companions punching away at their BlackBerries between courses.

    Focus generates productivity and that’s accomplished by single-tasking. Consider further the great athletes and their ability to reach the “flow” moment – single-minded focus on their objectives. To improve productivity and accomplishment, cornerstones of success (because they make us feel good), stop trying to be more than human.

  21. Well crafted article!! I really enjoyed. I’d experienced flow, and I’m aware that it requires your full attention to be triggered, multitask sounds good but until we are really trained to have some sort of multi-awareness developed we better stick to the only one we get to use or end with a lot of unfinished things instead of a series of successes.

    I still remember the first time I focused so intensely in a task that felt what I later discovered to be called “Flow”, I had estimated the time it would take to complete the task (a complex coding to add a feature to a software product), while I was working I had the odd sensation that everything was moving slowly but I didn’t pay too much attention to it, I was totally amazed at the code just pouring from my keystrokes. When I finished, I’d some sort of disorientation, less than 15 minutes had transcurred, I’d estimated the time to develop on at least 3 hours, actually I felt like if I had spent 3 hours coding! it was as those 3 hours were compressed on 15 minutes of realtime!

    Guess our true potential is on focus on one task at a time.

  22. I hate multi-tasking. I know I can’t concentrate on more than one thinking task at a time and I sense how unproductive it is. One thing at a time, please!

    In fact, as I was reading this article, I was interrupted with a phone call. There goes the flow, even though I really wanted to finish reading what you had written. (I’d say that 90-95% of all phone calls I receive interrupt what I’m working on and throw my concentration away from the task at hand. There are days I’d love to unplug the phone from the wall.)

    Great article, Mark.

  23. Mark,

    You cover A LOT of great ground in this post. I will refer to it often. In fact, I just linked to it in my own blog post: http://toomuchonherplate.com/do-you-read-or-watch-tv-when-you-eat-the-problem-with-multitasking/.

    Great post!

  24. Mark – nice article. For me the attention splitter is technology.

    New media is very exciting, and important to our business. In fact, we encourage the staff of our ad agency to be active – blogging, Twitter, Facebook etc. etc. I have jumped in with both feet myself and find that it has given me a much more solid feel for the social space and its potential for our clients. I also have found countless links to wonderfully informative videos, artcles, posts and papers…that’s the upside.

    The downside is the tsunami of information from these tools can be very distracting – undermining productivity. Leaving on a tool like TweetDeck – with its endless chirps alerting me to new Tweets is like trying to talk to my wife with an action movie playing on a TV just over her shoulder. It’s impossible to stay focused – even when I know there are consequences.

    I love the idea that this crackling flow of info can stimulate new ideas. I also like the idea of shutting it all down when it’s time to focus. The best of both worlds…as long as you have the discipline to do it.

  25. I love this blog post!

    I definitely don’t believe in multi-tasking and when I do talks and say that, people think I’m joking (I’m a time management coach and people think to save time, you have to multitask) 🙂

  26. Thanks for the great comments everyone. Sorry for the delay replying – I’ve had to single-mindedly focus on client sessions for the past week. 🙂

    @ Plish:

    There’s another aspect to multi-tasking: there’s a certain bravado, a certain pride when people are multi-tasking -it’s almost like people want to be seen, and expect to be rewarded as multi-taskers not as those mental midgets who only do one thing at a time…

    Yep, Lou is a proud multitasker. 😉

    @ Suzie – I’d hope that being on the alert for potential emergencies IS part of the normal driving process.

    @ David Fabbri – I agree technology can be a real double-edged sword. I’m a confirmed technophile – love the creative stimulation, not so sure about the lack of downtime and constant distractions. We’ve also discussed these issues in relation to the iPhone and Twitter.

  27. If multitasking were completely impossible, no one would ever be able to cook a complete meal.

    “Fire and Forget” multitasking is the oldest type of multitasking, and the only one which is truly widely practical: Any task which has a significant period of dead time in the middle can be multitasked with minimal effort. You start the potatoes boiling, and then you know that you can ignore them while you go cutting the vegetables. All the while, the roast is slow-cooking in the oven for another 30 minutes, at least. That’s multitasking.

    Similarly, for computer programmers, code which takes significant time to compile is an invitation to multi-tasking. If it takes ten minutes, you can check your email and the headlines on Slashdot. If it takes thirty minutes, you can actually work on some other project during the compile (or play a few rounds of Plant vs. Zombies if you don’t have a good secondary project).

    The same is true, to a greater degree, with large database test runs. If it’s going to two or three hours for you dataset to crunch out of the back-end, then you have plenty of opportunity to do something else.

    Fire and forget. You can do multiple things at once as ling as some of them require no attention or intervention on your part. As long as some of them are batch mode.

  28. @Ray,

    You are correct but I think most people don’t think of multi-tasking in that way. People think they can do two or more things at the same time. We can’t. Our brains think in serial mode when we’re doing conscious stuff. Try counting forward by three’s and backwards from 100 by 7’s and you’ll see that you can’t, you have to alternate. Which is what is happening actually in your description as well.

    Problems occur in the world because people start from the “Fire and Forget” perspective and think that doing that successfully is the same as driving a car in a snow storm while texting.

  29. @Ray – I agree with Michael (Plish) ‘Fire and forget’ works for some tasks, but it’s really just being organised about doing things sequentially.

    When most people talk about multi-tasking they mean trying to do more than one thing at a time that requires attention.

    As you say, “You can do multiple things at once as long as some of them require no attention or intervention on your part.” (Although if you’re not intervening, you’re not actually doing anything 🙂 .)

  30. Great article. I just forwarded it to the moron, propeller head, IT geek who thinks he’s a genius and everyone else is a moron because he can multi-task.

    What a joke. He wears two headsets while glancing at his blackberry and running around the office at a fast pace getting absolutely nothing accomplished. But it sure looks impressive!! Ha!

  31. I really hope the massive bombardment of inputs of today’s technological savy society would force our brains to adjust and reach a new balance where multitask (at some sort of conscient level) would be regarded just another thread of being human as developing language should’d looked to the ones using signs and mumbles, who knows, maybe the rise on autism in our kids is just a preamble, had you seen how easy is to them to understand a computer vs a person?

  32. @ Ken – Would it be easier to adjust to our brains instead of trying to ‘force’ them to adjust to technology?

  33. I just came across this post in a year end review of some of the best articles. I agree in principle, but I think you can train your brain to do several things at once. I try to start every day with a “To Do” list and check them off as I move through. Interruptions happen and I try to stay on task, as I handle other things. I usually try to delegate the interruptions, unless they need my immediate attention. I just keep coming back to my list and keep moving forward.

    Best to you in 2010.


  34. Thanks Steve. According to the neuroscientists, we can’t train our brains to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. You can do a ‘mindless’ activity (e.g. washing the dishes) at the same time as a ‘mindful’ one (radio listening to the radio) but not two tasks that require attention. (Actually, some people would say even washing the dishes is something we should do mindfully, but that’s another story…)

  35. I have never been able to multi task and always ridiculed friends who claimed to multi task but accomplished mediocre results. The most I have done is background tasking. I do it at work.

    When there is enough noise from co-workers chatting, I find it difficult to concentrate on my work. I usually work with email alerts switched off, so when I am working, there is nothing popping up to distract me. I cant switch off co-worker’s noise, so I put my headphones on and listen to a familiar playlist on my iPhone. I know most of the songs, so they don’t distract me. Sometimes I catch a song that I particularly like at the end of its track.

  36. I came looking for one thing and found this interesting article.

    I agree with emails being the biggest modern day distraction.


  37. I’ve tried talking on the phone with my mom and typing an email, or reading an article/recipe at the same time. I blank out on both, feel like I’ve lost out on the conversation and forgot to put 2 critical ingredients in my muffins, rendering my 1/2 hour of work inedible. Even the raccoons refused to eat them. Serves me right. I know better now.

  38. Hi,

    Following this very interesting article, I can actually add that, by experience with my own company, we started noticing that doing one project at a time is much more productive and effortless than doing several.

    It is hard nowadays to answer to all customer calls. Everyone wants everything done by yesterday. Today, is too late already. Not only does this not work, but also builds a society we will realise we don’t want.

    Pay attention to that. Put your customers lined up, have the results ready when you say they will be ready. If you do this two things together, you will be gaining new customers fast.



  39. People believe that they become efficient with their work when they multitask but the end results is that their wasting every single of their time when they try to switch from one task to the other and nothing gets done….

  40. Shellie Harrison says:

    My opinion on multi-tasking:

    Multitasking is a misleading term. For clarity purposes we are rapid taskers. We do things in an order that stategically is the most efficient string of tasks. It is not that we actually do them at the same time. We simply view the tasks at hand as a string of tasks, rather than a single task. Same as writing and singing and speaking, strings of tasks. Everyone is a tasker, but not all people are rapid taskers. We appear to be doing multiple things because our ability to remember more tasks at one time is larger than other people who are commonly referred to as single task people. Multi-taskers (more accurately termed “rapid taskers” are time management gurus.

    Rapid Tasker Traits: We view the tasks as an overall process and then execute the individual tasks more rapidly than single task oriented people who get caught up in mono task sections of productivity and view it as changing tasks. It is simply a pivoting of perception. Choosing to focus on the OVERALL objective as a series of tasks that are most efficiently executed in a specific order to easily move from one task to the next with minimal down time for trying to decide what to do next.


    If you focus on one production task at a time, it is very hard to change to another task, because it feels as though you are starting anew, when at the same time a rapid tasker would have already known exactly what to do and been planned for it before you.

    • We do things in an order that stategically is the most efficient string of tasks. It is not that we actually do them at the same time.

      Sounds like rapid taskers are still single taskers, just very efficient ones!

  41. Gurudatt Kundapurkar says:

    One of the most stimulating topics discussed here. Even for those who claim multi-tasking capability they need to have a keen sense of priority to help them do the tasks in proper sequence. I would imagine for a creative problem solver it is essential to develop a sense of anticipation. This is simply because he can be better prepared to tackle the issues, thus channelising creative energies for accomplishing the visualised outcome. Mark, you have exploded the myth of the so-called multi-tasking as well as it should have been. Thanks = Gurudatt, India

  42. Like many of others who wrote comments, I enjoyed this post because it reinforced my dislike of multitasking.

    Sometimes I enjoy rapidly changing focus, especially when I’m in research mode–trolling for inspiration and not trying to produce anything. Time spent this way is an important part of my overall creative life.

    However, my most inspiring creative experiences always come from deep concentration and the feeling of flow you mentioned. Unfortunately, like many I rarely have large blocks of time available for contemplation or sustained focus.

    Mark, I think posts like this one are not only informative, but important support for those of us trying to reclaim our time and be our creative best.

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  44. maure lee says:

    I had a very unnerving experience today! While concentrating hard on filling out 2 sets of medical forms in limited time in a doctor’s office, I was briefly interupted by staff returning my ID & insurance cards to me after they were photocopied. Evidently, very absent-mindedly I stuck the cards in my purse while still giving my attention to getting the medical forms completed.

    Once I was done with the forms, I did not recall getting my ID & insurance cards back. I was quite sure that they had not been returned to me. The clerk searched her desk, but was quite certain she had returned the cards to me. It was quite an embarrassment to search my purse a second time, & find the cards there, where I had stuck them earlier. I apologized profusely, but I suffered a true memory block, or worse, a temporary amnesia!

    I certainly hope after reading through all the negatives associated with multi-tasking, that I can blame this episode of forgetfulness on being interupted while super-concentrating on the filling out the forms task!

  45. I couldn’t agree more with this article, most people think can multi-task but I always knew that true multi-tasking is nearly impossible, I didn’t know what to call it until now, Background Tasking or task switching.

    I knew this was the case but I could not put it into to words or explain what I meant, now I have a link to tell people what to read.

    I read another article that by attempting to multi-task your brain takes twice (10 minutes both) long to do the same tasks, as oppose to doing the same task one at a time (2.5 minutes each).

    I would not say that multi-tasking does not exist because it does but it really needs a long time rehearsal and practice.

    Walking and talking at the same time it is multi tasking except that we have rehearsed both so many times it becomes and automatic process. (I have not done a lot of research into this) but I do believe that in this case walking is an “automatic gambled process” meaning the brain knows roughly where and what each foot should do with little effort, so it will focus most (if not the rest) of the process to constructing sentences and make a speak.

    Perhaps this could be called the “automatic tasking”, so should one require to multi-task should ask the question what two things can be combined rehearsed for so long until it becomes automatic, but before that one must ask the question, the time to learn an automatic process would this save you a lot more time in the future and if it’s all worth the time?

    • I read another article that by attempting to multi-task your brain takes twice (10 minutes both) long to do the same tasks, as oppose to doing the same task one at a time (2.5 minutes each).

      That sounds about right.

      Walking and talking at the same time it is multi tasking except that we have rehearsed both so many times it becomes and automatic process.

      Yes, the critical point is that we can’t multi-task where two tasks require conscious attention. So the walking doesn’t occupy much attention, leaving us free to pay attention to the talking.

      But when it comes to things like writing and answering email, or talking to someone in front of you and texting someone else, both tasks require conscious attention and you can only switch from one to the other.

      • I have noticed it that a friend of mine could actually text by automatic process, she is always texting and such so it has become like a process, she can hold a conversation with another person on the room while still texting, but before she sends the text she goes over it to make sure everything is ok.

        I suppose that’s what I refer to that process that we think can’t be part of a multi task can become automatic process her texting away a thought she had held, there is no way of measuring how much attention she pays on each but I think it’s worth to not over look at it, and who knows if she does that for a long enough time she may one day be able to do both at the same time 🙂 but automatic process can some times get rusty if left unpracticed.

        My advice would be, do what is best for you and know your limits and judge if what you currently are doing is worth the time and hassle :).

  46. As a singer/songwriter, blogger, part-time waitress and mother of two children, I’ve done some thinking about multitasking! I’ve learned that I only get angry with my children and frustrated in my work if I try to do any serious writing while I am also responsible to be watching them. It’s true that as they grow older they don’t need as much focused attention, but I still always need to be “interruptible” when I’m on childcare duty.

    So, like at least one other commenter has mentioned, I’ve benefited from designating child-free “chunks” of time – early morning is one treasure, and now that they’re both in school, I’ve gained even more focused time opportunities – and I know it’s important to shut down e-mail and keep off of Facebook and Twitter during those times!

  47. I was curious if you ever considered changing the layout of your
    blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of
    text for only having 1 or two pictures. Maybe you could space
    it out better?