The Myth of Multitasking


Multitasking has become a very popular form of work, typically among entrepreneurs that have a limited amount of time to setup and grow their business, but is it really the best way to work?

Although it seems that we are achieving more, the fact is that we are achieving less due to the decreased productivity that multitasking generates.

How our brain works

Our brains are designed to focus on one task at a time, gain momentum at it as we continue performing the task, and when a change occurs, the process of developing momentum has to start all over again.


Imagine a car in the middle of Manhattan trying to get from point A to point B. Assuming both points are on a straight line, it will require many starts and stops. Now compare this to the same car starting from zero and speeding to 80Mph in a highway. How much longer did the car in Manhattan take to travel the same distance as the car in the highway? At least twice if not more.


Simple, right? Well, simply described this is how our brain works. We are designed to do one task, learn it, and improve at it as we continue doing it. On the other hand, if we start switching between multiple tasks, our brain is not able to gain “speed” or momentum at any one of them, and hence the total time taken to complete the tasks are longer. When tested, people doing X amounts of tasks one at a time versus people doing the same tasks in “multitasking” mode, it becomes clear that the “multitasking” mode produces less in the same amount of time instead of more.


Science proves it

Each time we “shift gears” or in other words, we change tasks, our brain has to change goals and activate the new set of rules needed to accomplish the new task. Imagine all that time consumed in “shifting gears” when you add it up!

Dr. John D. Meyer found through studies that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time”[1]

Our take away

Even though “multitasking” might be seen some times as “the way of entrepreneurs”, science proves that it makes you less productive, precisely in a time that you need to become more productive.

If you are a multitasker, let’s face it, it’s a habit! Luckily, all habits can be modified.

Changing a habit requires two things: 1) Get convinced that the habit is not good for you and 2) Have the desire to change. Try single tasking for a week and compare your results to a week of multitasking in the usual way. I’m sure you will not only find out that you are more productive, but also notice that the quality of your work is actually higher!

[1] American Psychological Association, “Multitasking: switching costs”, March 20, 2006, http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx


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