The Myth of Multitasking

Dividing your attention is never a good thing to do. Despite the most avid believers, we are not built for the strange task of multitasking. The thought that you are going to be more productive by doing more things at once makes no mathematical or neurological sense. The myth of multitasking tries to convince us that we have to do more and more.

Have more work? Perfect, do more of it together. Work on three or four projects at a time. No problem, pile it one and set it up. Work on all of them at once.

The reasoning just doesn’t hold. You wouldn’t expect a construction worker to be building three skyscrapers at once, or your mechanic to be working on five cars simultaneously. You certainly wouldn’t want you doctor performing more than one surgery at a time.

And yet we put this pressure on ourselves. Take on more, do more with every second. Multiple monitors, split screens, the digital divide that encourages this bad behaviour. Split our attention and deliver sub-optimal results. Or spend our time correcting mistakes we wouldn’t have been making in the first place had we just taken the time to focus. The myth of multitasking is busted.

That’s not to say that you cannot schedule creatively throughout the day, or that you cannot have more than one project that you are working on. The idea is to plan accordingly, to take the appropriate breaks, or to move from project to project as your attention on each one gets stale.

In fact, there is a net benefit to having multiple problems to work on. The key is to harness this potential in bursts of focus, either through scheduling or through honest reflection. Work ten minutes on this project, than hold it in the back of your mind. Or work on this project until a specific goal or until you are running out of steam and then switch.

This way we stay active throughout the day, we stay fresh in our thinking, and we stay focused on the work that’s in front of us. We can be routinely creative, accomplish more, and avoid the pitfalls of divided attention.

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