Productivity Tips

5 Reasons Why Multitasking Is a Myth

By January 19, 2015 3 Comments

I’m guessing that as you read this article, you may have some other things on your mind; you may have email alerts popping up or you are holding a side conversation with a colleague, you may be on hold with someone or attempting to sort through your expenses. You’ve got multitasking down to a fine art (or so you think) and I bet you think it saves you time. Right? You’d be surprised.

It is a common myth that multitasking is a great way to save time and get more done, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The truth is that multitasking is actually wasting your time. Sure, your tasks will probably get done but it’s unlikely you’ll take in much of what you read or perform at your best on any tasks that require concentration or memory.

Now don’t get me wrong, multitasking can work, but there is a limit to what it is useful for. You can walk and talk or drive and listen to the radio, but multitasking is really only useful for rote tasks. Here are five reasons why multitasking is a myth.

1. Your short-term memory has a limit

Your short-term memory can only take in and store five to nine tasks at once. If the information isn’t being stored, it won’t be available for recall. It’s like it never existed and it certainly won’t be of any use to you later. If a task requires memory, reasoning, or any kind of learning then it is not suitable for multitasking.

2. You make mistakes and need to re-do your work

It might seem appealing to get two things done at once, but in my experience you end up doing one or both of them poorly. When you push your brain capacity to its maximum, you make mistakes and end up needing to re-do the work. Worse than that, you may also make mistakes that are detrimental to your job and can’t be undone, not to mention creating a bad impression with sloppy, rushed work.

3. You miss opportunities

While you are busily rushing around getting nothing done, your concentration is divided and you miss small, but significant parts of your tasks. You might miss the chance to network with someone over the phone while your mind is elsewhere reading through emails and talking at the same time. There are countless, subtle opportunities throughout the day that are missed if each task doesn’t have your full focus.

4. Nothing gets finished

You may be working on multiple tasks but when you try and multitask, you get distracted and end up swapping from task to task but not finishing anything. Not only does this reduce productivity and waste time, but it also increases stress. You don’t get the satisfaction of finishing one task and moving to the next as nothing is ever completed and there is no structure to your day.

5. You end up working more slowly

You multitask because you think it helps you save time and get more done. The reality is that swapping between tasks uses up to 40% more time according to research from the American Psychological Association. The best approach is to work in batches on one task at a time rather than wasting time refocusing on a new task every five minutes.

So if multitasking is a myth, what are the best ways to be more efficient and get more done? Enter your thoughts in the comments!

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Austin is a man of many words, as expressed in the many blog posts he has thus published at Endless. What may not be evident about Austin, as seen from the readers' perspective, is that he is more-than-likely dancing, rather "busting a move," while working. And that, he takes all the pleasure in.

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  • Jacob Eagleshield

    When I am interviewing a prospective new employee,and their end of the conversation starts with,’I am a great multi tasker’, the interview is just about over.
    It is my experience that someone who is deliberate,does one thing at a time,checks for errors,corrects them if there are any,and moves on to the next assignment,gets more work done than the type A who starts five or six things at once and finishes none of them
    The deliberate worker also reduces redundancy With multi taskers,you may need four or five people doing the same job,to insure its completion. My way you need only one or two. Concentration is the key,which multi taskers do not have. As Larry the Cable guy says just ‘get ‘er done’

    • Awesome insights! I love how you integrate it into your hiring process. Thanks for reading Jacob!

      • Jacob Eagleshield

        I simply do not understand why ‘multitaskers’ who in my unqualified opinion(I am no shrink) are mostly manic,are in such demand.

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