Personal Productivity

Why Multitasking Does Not Work

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
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"If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one." ~ Russian proverb

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Why Multitasking Does Not Work

Multitasking is a myth, at least in human beings. It turns out that this ability to carry out various things at the same time that some gladiators of modern life seem to have doesn’t exist as such.

Scientists now know that the human brain is unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. What looks like multitasking is actually the result of a rapid shift of our attention between different tasks, a continuous come and go that reduces our productivity and increases errors and mistakes up to 40%.

When you talk on the phone while cooking, there are continuous changes in your attention between the conversation you are trying to maintain and what you are doing in the kitchen. When the pan catches your attention because the chicken it contains is getting burned, you lose track of the conversation and need to ask the person you’re talking with to repeat whatever they have said last. When the conversation gets all your attention, you lose sight of the cooking process and forget to pour salt into the bowl.

Doing several things at once is not recommended for many reasons:

  • Your efficiency decreases. Performing two tasks at the same time takes longer than doing one first and then the other, because you have to add up to the time that each task needs to get done the time required by all the changes of focus between them. That’s why batch processing is so effective.
  • The quality of your work decreases. The continuous changes in attention make your brain more prone to making mistakes. And the more complicated the tasks you’re performing at the same time, the higher the chance of making a mistake.
  • Your stress increases. This way of working increases heart rate and releases cortisol, the hormone we use to manage stress. It also makes you more distant and easier to anger.
  • Your ability to enjoy decreases. If you get used to living like this, your ability to pay attention to things will diminish and you will not be able to enjoy many of the events that make life interesting.
  • The last two reasons lead us inevitably to another consequence: your relationships will suffer.
  • It is dangerous. I once burned my hand while cooking spaghetti because I was talking on the phone at the same time. It can be worse if you’re driving instead of cooking.

Interruptions are the number one enemy of your productivity. And since multitasking is a kind of partial attention with constant interruptions, you should eliminate it from your life.

By the way, the popular belief that women are better at multitasking than men, is another myth. Although some people are better than others in this continuous partial attention process, no significant differences between genders have been found.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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Commented about 7 years ago Steve

Another great article. I have found work and personal life so much better since committing myself to just doing one thing at a time.

avatar Steve

Another great article. I have found work and personal life so much better since committing myself to just doing one thing at a time.

Commented about 7 years ago Francisco Sáez

Thanks so much, Steve!

avatar Francisco Sáez

Thanks so much, Steve!

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