The Multitasking Myth

So you think you are a successful multitasker ‘eh.  Type an email while talking on the phone?  No problem.  Put together two different sets of presentations at the same time? Piece of cake.

But as you sort through the mail while reading this article, I’ve got some news that will make you stop in your tracks:  There’s no such thing as multitasking, and researchers have conducted studies to prove it.

Debunking the myth

“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” says Earl Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT in the article Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again by Jon Hamilton. In fact, a study published in NeuroImage found that managing two mental tasks at once has been proven to reduce the brainpower available for either task, as reported in The Difficulties of Multi-tasking by Colin Allen.

The truth is, it’s virtually impossible to truly focus on more than one thing at a time. Instead, our brain will shift its focus from one thing to the next very quickly.  Allen reports that according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, when the mind shifts back and forth, the mind actually slows down.

The trouble with juggling too many tasks

There’s a term for this rapid shifting between one task to another, and it’s called switchtasking, according to management expert Dave Crenshaw, on his website And there’s a high cost to switchtasking over time: “You have deeply engrained habits that cause stress and anxiety and dropped responsibilities and a myriad of productivity & focus problems,” states Crenshaw. “It’s little wonder so many people complain of increasingly short attention spans!”

Pump up your productivity with these simple steps

David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, found multitasking leads to inefficiency. “Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” he says in the article, Multitasking Madness Decreases Productivity, by Barbara Bartlein.  Meyer also states, “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.” Instead of trying to take on too much at the same time, Bartlein offers these suggestions:

1. Estimate the time needed to complete your tasks, then actually time yourself. You’ll be able to see where to adjust your work schedule based on your actual results.

2. Keep your mind less cluttered by using external memory devices. That could mean using anything from a notebook, a desk calendar or a PDA for important appointments or your “to do” list.

3. Group similar tasks together. Set aside specific times to handle phone calls and emails, rather than checking them multiple times throughout the day.

4. Finally, remove any distractions when you’re focusing on a particular task. Let your phone go to voicemail, set the radio volume lower.  That way, you will be able to concentrate on completing the task at hand.

Of course, there are times when you can layer your tasks. For instance, you can print documents while you’re putting together a spreadsheet, or read a report while you’re labeling envelopes. But your mind is still able to focus on the task in front of you. So think about how you’re accomplishing what you’re doing, and see how cutting back on multitasking can actually increase your productivity.

One type of multitasking does work and it works quite well.  It has to do with planning your work.  Charles Schwab taught this technique to Napoleon Hill.  He called it the “Six List”.  It works well to this day. It let’s your subconscious work on your priority list overnight so you will be focused the next day.

This Week’s Challenge

Use the six-list for 6 days in a row.

  1. Each evening before going to bed, write down the six most important things for you to do tomorrow and prioritize them 1 (the most important) through 6.
  2. Plan them into your day starting with the most important first, the next most important second and so on.
  3. Scratch them off the list IN ORDER PRIORITY and upon completion. Do not skip around.
  4. Take whatever does not get done and add them on to tonight’s list of the six most important items to be done tomorrow.

Let me know your results!

Onward & Upward!

Questions? Call, email or skype me, ok?

Fred Raley

I once had more hair…

Fred Raley
Woodbridge, VA
703 203 4648 (my real, in-my-pocket cell phone)
Skype: FredRaley

P.S. Are you doing your Daily Praxis? Get it set up now. (if you like, email me to add you to my daily reminder to do this good deed. It only takes seconds per day to help someone. You can afford that can’t you?)

2 Comments to "The Multitasking Myth"

  1. August 15, 2011 - 5:41 am | Permalink


    This is awesome blog man, love the way you write Fred

  2. April 26, 2012 - 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I am one of those guilty people, I survive through multitasking and I have to admit your absolutely right. I’m selling myself and my work short by trying to do too many things at once. I’ve heard this more then one but I’ve never seen an actual suggestion to break my habit. I’m excited to try your suggestion within the next week!!

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