The Surprising Truth About Multitasking

It’s a commonly held myth that multitasking offers a reliable way for you to find more time. Intuitively, it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

I mean, if you can do two or three tasks in the time allotted for one, aren’t you being more efficient and effective?

Well actually, no. Research shows that the advantages of multitasking are mostly a myth.


When does multitasking work?

The number of tasks for which multitasking may bring advantages are quite limited. By definition, these tasks need to be ones that don’t require your focus or concentration. The best examples I can think of are tasks that are rote.


So, you might amp up your efficiency by running the dishwasher while unpacking groceries, and brewing coffee. Or, in an office setting you might be able to run a big copy job, collate the pages for a mailing, and stuff the envelopes at the same time.


There are drawbacks to multitasking.

But even with chores that lend themselves to multitasking, your attention is always going to be divided. When you are doing several things at once, one of the things that is lost is the brain’s full focus, on ANY of the tasks involved.


Research shows that the advantages of multitasking are mostly a myth.


Multitasking — it’s complicated.

And the concept of multitasking is more nuanced than you might think. This is something that struck me recently when I read an excellent blog post by Daphne Gray-Grant, The Publication Coach.


The post is titled 7 ways to stop editing while you write. It shines a light on how destructive it is to edit while you write.  She notes that when it comes to a task like writing, we use two parts of our brain. There’s the critical and the creative brain. And they approach writing differently.


Are you multitasking without realizing it?

This led me to think about how frequently you may be multitasking when you think you’re focusing on a singular task. Or, put another way, I suspect that many tasks that you view as a singular whole (like writing) are actually multi-faceted.


So, wouldn’t it be helpful to take all those singular tasks and start breaking them down into their component parts? Then you’ll be better able to recognize multitasking when you’re doing it.


What do your tasks require from you?

To do that, you need to step back and consider the different energies, skills, and ways of thinking that particular tasks require from you.


Take writing, as an example.


As I was writing this post I was frequently pulled away from creativity and back toward reviewing and revising what I’d just written. Whenever I gave in to that impulse, I allowed myself to be side-tracked.


This shift of energy and focus inevitably slows me down, stops the flow of my thoughts, and stiffens my creative process.


So, you can see that writing is not a singular task. At the very least it includes the creative energy of the writing and then the very different energy of the editing. So, whenever you fall into moving from one mode to another, as I just did, you are multitasking.


How much are you multitasking in your life right now?

Each time your mind shifts gears you lose focus. This consumes your time and energy. As well, it adversely affects the quality of your time. You simply aren’t as fully present as you might be.


Each time your mind shifts gears you lose focus.

So, I’d like to challenge you, today, to observe the quality of your attention.

•       How often, throughout your day, do you engage in multitasking?

•       Is it a conscious choice or is it more like a reflex?

And stay tuned. In my next post I’ll be sharing an exercise to help you zero in on the places where you’re multitasking to your own detriment. And then I’ll give you some tips for stepping away from this habit.


Do you have comments? I invite you to write me at [email protected] or post a comment on my blog.

I'd love to hear from you!


Until next time, Choose to Lead,



  • Article previously published by Paula Eder