The Multitasking Myth
Updated: Feb 1
About two years ago, Big Think released a video on how multitasking is a myth. I haven’t featured a Big Think video on The Low Tech Trek for awhile so, I figured, what the heck! McGill University Psychology Professor Daniel Levitin talks about how shifting our focus from one thing to the next comes at a neurological cost.
When we multitask, we are “fractioning our attention” into little bite-sizes. Because of this, we are essentially doing multiple things poorly instead of doing one task incredibly well. It’s impossible for our brains to compute multiple tasks at the same time, at least not in an efficient manner. This leads to sloppy results.
I’m always confused by the praise for multitasking given this in-depth research. If you are ever on the job hunt, I can guarantee that many of the jobs will have a line under “Qualifications” that reads something like:
“A strong ability to multitask and juggle multiple projects in a fast-paced environment”
If we are talking about organization, then that’s another story. If a job is requiring an individual to have the organizational ability to get more than one task done, then this makes logical sense. Organization is a key skill set and we must develop organizational skills if we want to complete multiple tasks and goals.
But organization is not multitasking; it’s quite the opposite. Sure, you may have multiple tasks to complete, but that doesn’t mean you should do them all at the same time. Organization prevents multitasking. Organization allows us to work deeply on a task and finish it before moving onto the next one.
Tim Ferriss has a great quote: “Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things.” How true this is! While I’m sitting here, preaching the importance of focusing on one task at a time, it is much easier said than done. That’s because we get bogged down by urgency. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago.
When we are working, our boss or some other external source will throw another task our way and they will praise to the almighty seas how important this new task is. Because of this, we feel we need to stop what we are doing and address the new task. Before we know it, another task presents itself, then another, then another, until we are juggling five or six things at the same time. This doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help your employer, and it doesn’t help the people you are trying to serve.
The Internet, smartphones, and social media add on a whole other layer to this, constantly interrupting us as we are trying to focus. We are at the whims of our devices, which leads to poorer work. We can’t possibly work to our fullest if we are getting disrupted by the buzz or the bing or the flashing phone.
We must be intentional with how we use our time. Why is it that some people seem to have these amazing lives while we are barely keeping our heads above water? It’s because some people are more intentional with and better manage their time. They focus on the key tasks that will lead to better results. They understand that multitasking is a myth and that, by only focusing and working hard on one task at a time, will they feel accomplished and fulfilled.