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The Multi-Tasking Myth

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The Multi-Tasking Myth

Content:

What is “multi-tasking?”

Photo of a man multi-tasking using a mobile phone and laptop in a cafe.

Balancing all of the things that need to be accomplished in life can often feel daunting, sometimes impossible. The go-to solution for this dilemma is to become better at “multi-tasking.” As though it is an essential ability to be successful. While it is convenient to believe that multi-tasking is possible, an increasingly large body of science is telling us that trying to do more than one task at a time actually reduces efficiency, decreases quality, and wastes more time on tasks we want to accomplish (Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work, 2021).

What is “multi-tasking?” “Multi-tasking” is generally defined as the concept that one can split their attention on more than one task or activity at the same time. The concept gained attention in the 1960’s. However, even early studies found virtually no evidence to support accomplishing several tasks with multi-tasking. By contrast, multi-tasking is viewed as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one” (Hallowell, 2007).

If “multi-tasking” is a myth that makes us less effective, why is it common for some to believe they have mastered it? Arguably, this is due to a common misunderstanding about the meaning of “multi-tasking.” Most people believe multi-tasking is an ability to do several things at the same time. “Distracted focus” might be a more appropriate term. In business, “multi-tasking” relates to one’s ability to adapt to all types of environments within a company and effectively undertake different activities within a set timeframe (What is multitasking and what are its main pros and cons?, 2022). 

When a job description includes “multi-tasking” as an essential job function, it is letting candidates know they must be adept at switching between several duties or tasks, not that they engage in multiple tasks at the same time. This is a significant difference. Attempting to do more than one task at a time wastes substantial time and lead to an estimated $650 billion in wasted productivity in 2008 alone (Richtel, 2008).

Additionally, a 2020 Forbes article notes that multi-tasking results in:

The word Productivity is highlighted in yellow.
  • Productivity reduced by as much as 40%.
  • Increased employee stress while reducing achievement and meaningfulness.
  • It’s treacherous for brains by impairing cognitive ability and lowering IQ.

With all of the various demands on our time, what can be done? Changing our thinking away from “multi-tasking” and toward learning how to effectively delegate time and attention is a good place to start. Time management is a more effective tool when it comes to accomplishing tasks efficiently and accurately. Surgeons, for example, are highly skilled at focusing their attention on a singular task while operating. This is not something they are born with; it is an acquired skill. 

Most jobs do not require the level of attention that performing surgery requires, but we all still want to be good at our jobs.

Tips to more effectively manage and delegate time:

Time management cocept with and Alarm clock and task list on a yellow background.
  • Prioritize tasks: by due date or level of importance.
  • Stay organized.
  • Set time limits – set alarms for how much time will be spent on a particular task, and stop when the alarm goes off.
  • Take breaks.
  • Pursue goals – keep checklists and mark things off as they are accomplished.
  • Collaborate – talk with colleagues and see if it is possible to coordinate who is best at completing specific tasks.
  • Make a list or calendar of all of the tasks with due dates that need to be accomplished.

Using these techniques to manage time allows attention to be focused accurately and more efficiently in completing job tasks. Over time, these techniques are shown to improve flexibility and agility switching between tasks (What is multitasking and what are its main pros and cons?, 2022). Since the goal is to be good at our jobs, time management is a more desirable skill than “multi-tasking.” 

By: Ken Meeker CPC

Prior Career Content by Ken Meeker

About The Author:

A professional waist shot of Ken a white man with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.  
Ken Meeker

Ken Meeker is a Certified Professional Coach, owner of Vitality Career Coaching LLC, and member of the NCDA. He specializes in executive and career coaching with a special emphasis on differently-abled individuals who want to return to work. He is a DEI consultant, Public Speaker, and advocates for inclusivity of marginalized groups. Ken is a 2021-2022 AFB Blind Leadership Development Program Fellow and will serve as a Mentor for the 2022-2023 program. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.com/in/kenmeekeraz, kenmeekeraz@gmail.com or visit www.vitalitycareercoaching.com

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Image Descriptions:
  • A woman twirling multiple colored plates on sticks.
  • Photo of a man working using a mobile phone and laptop in a cafe.
  • The word Productivity is highlighted in yellow.
  • Time management cocept with and Alarm clock and task list on a yellow background.
  • Author photo: A professional waist shot of Ken a white man with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.  


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