I’d like to share a valuable principle with you. It’s something I’ve taught to many business owners and executives I’ve worked with. This principle may go against the grain of some of your beliefs about time and the best way to get things done. Because of that, I ask you to keep an open mind.

Multitasking is a myth. It just plain doesn’t exist.

Does that shock you? Multitasking has become something of a heroic word in our vocabulary. Many executives pride themselves on their ability to “multitask”. Recent job descriptions that I have seen even ask that potential employees have the ability to multitask. A current national commercial sings the praises of multitasking. However, multitasking, as most people understand it, is deceptively counter-productive. Multitasking is tremendously costly. Multitasking hurts us every time we attempt to engage in it.

I should clarify a few definitions. When I speak of multitasking as most people understand it, I am not referring to doing something completely mindless and mundane in the background such as exercising while listening to a CD, eating dinner and watching a show, or having the copy machine operate in the background while you answer emails. For clarity’s sake, I call this “background tasking“.

Switchtasking – A Neurological Meltdown

When most people refer to multitasking they mean simultaneously performing two or more things that require mental effort and attention. Examples would include saying we’re spending time with family while were researching stocks online, attempting to listen to a CD and answering email at the same time, or pretending to listen to an employee while we are crunching the numbers. What most people refer to as multitasking, I refer to as “switchtasking.” Why?

Because the truth is we really cannot do two things at the same time—we are only one person with only one brain. Neurologically speaking, it has been proven to be impossible. What we are really doing is switching back and forth between two tasks rapidly, typing here, paying attention there, checking our “crackberry” here, answering voicemail there back and forth back and forth at a high rate. Keep this up over a long period of time, and you have deeply ingrained habits that cause stress and anxiety and dropped responsibilities and a myriad of productivity & focus problems. It’s little wonder so many people complain of increasingly short attention spans!Woman resources

Switching Cost – Sacrificing Quality

When we speak of multitasking, what we really mean is that we are switchtasking: switching rapidly between one task and another. Yet, each time we switch, no matter how quickly that switch takes place in our mind, there is a cost associated with it. It’s an economic term called switching cost—and the switching cost is high.

When I shared this principle of switchtasking to a CEO of a respected national company, she was astounded. We did a budgeting exercise where we looked at how much time she was spending in a given week. In the process of budgeting her time and looking at how much time she was spending on each activity, we found that she was extremely over budget in what she thought she could accomplish in a week. The truth is, there are only 168 hours in a week, and yet she had put down that she was accomplishing 188 hours worth of work in that week!

As we went through the process, we realized where the extra time was coming from. It was from the fact that she was doing research at the same time that she was spending time with her family. When we came across this, I taught her how multitasking was a myth. She was spending time either with one or the other. She was switching rapidly between the two. In reality she was rarely spending any time with her family. She was really doing business research in the presence of her family. There is happy end to this story, however.

The next day we met she burst into the room, full of excitement. She exclaimed, “I’ll have you know that I spent time with my family last night and I didn’t multitask! I got home and said let’s go to dinner. My kids were surprised. But we went to the restaurant and I paid attention to them and I didn’t think about anything else but spending time with my family. At first I don’t think they took me seriously. After they realized that I was really spending time with them and paying attention to them they were excited and I could tell they really appreciated it.”

This CEO had come to understand that not only was switchtasking hurting her business, but it was taking a toll on her family. Once she clearly understood the truth and received some guidance on how to take action, she committed make changes. Her business, her family, and she are all better because of it.

There are a number of steps you can take to start changing your productivity, life, and the quality of your time. By changing your mindset you will be closer to achieving every goal you set out for yourself.

PS: According to Basex Research, Americans are losing $900 billion a year on switch-tasking!

FinerMinds Team

FinerMinds Team

In our quest to boost your personal growth, we hope to inspire and support you through our content! You can also check us out on Facebook.

8 Comments

  • Caryl says:

    I knew it! Intuitively I knew it and have been waiting for the research to prove me correct. I worked in the OD unit of a financial services company for six years and at the end of every workshop we conducted I expressed my concern about the level of "multi/switchtasking" that employees were expected to do and the unbelievable levels of stress being experienced.

    Thanks for this. I will certainly share perhaps they will begin to listen.

  • Leila says:

    Thanks for the interesting article about multitasking. I thought the illustration in the video was illuminating – I'll have to look out for times when I do it.

  • Greg Markham says:

    I'm sad to say that I read this article while “switch tasking” between several different tasks. Unfortunately, I don't think my particular job (IT Support) allows for a multi-tasking free environment.

  • Caryl says:

    I knew it! Intuitively I knew it and have been waiting for the research to prove me correct. I worked in the OD unit of a financial services company for six years and at the end of every workshop we conducted I expressed my concern about the level of “multi/switchtasking” that employees were expected to do and the unbelievable levels of stress being experienced.
    Thanks for this. I will certainly share perhaps they will begin to listen.

  • Yana says:

    Thank you for this article! I have noticed myself that when I try to do several things at the same time I get much slower. Not to talk about the desperation of “Oh Gosh! I haven't done anything!”. It really pay off to focus on one thing at a time – will get you faster through he job and will make you feel better for finishing a task!

  • nieshka says:

    Women are more into multitasking Said to say but it is probably true what you are saying.it is like a man can watch football and listen to his wife talking.How about listening to self hypnosis MP# and sleeping at the same tine.Subconscious mind should be still alert?

  • Cathe says:

    Multitasking is great for mindless tasks such as getting the laundry going , changing the bed , starting dinner , shredding mail , and cleaning the floor . Multitasking should be used to get the mundane things done . As a working Mom for many years , I learned you can throw a load of laundry , have dinner going and talk on the phone at the same time. If a task require focus than multitasking is not the answer . So just keep multitasking for the mundane. Cathe

  • JT says:

    I disagree with the statement that multitasking can be great for "mindless" tasks.

    When we do not pay attention to the present moment it builds anxiety into our future. We start to second guess ourselves… Did I lock the door? I thought I washed those pants? Where did I put my checkbook??????

    Paying attention to the moments we are living in right now will change the moment AND the future.

    More gets done and less gets "lost".

    Thanks for the article.

  • Thanks for the amazing information on multi-tasking… It all makes sense now that I read it, and I think if everyone just focused on one task at a time, they would be much more productive just like the CEO you spoke of.

    Looking back I can even see examples in my own work where your article applies… whenever I take a big chunk of time to do something without interruptions, I almost always get not only a large quantity of work done, it's also at a much higher quality.

    When I'm constantly switching focus, I realize that there is instead a huge lack of focus.

    Great article, thanks!

  • JT says:

    I disagree with the statement that multitasking can be great for “mindless” tasks.
    When we do not pay attention to the present moment it builds anxiety into our future. We start to second guess ourselves… Did I lock the door? I thought I washed those pants? Where did I put my checkbook??????
    Paying attention to the moments we are living in right now will change the moment AND the future.
    More gets done and less gets “lost”.
    Thanks for the article.

  • Thanks for the amazing information on multi-tasking… It all makes sense now that I read it, and I think if everyone just focused on one task at a time, they would be much more productive just like the CEO you spoke of.

    Looking back I can even see examples in my own work where your article applies… whenever I take a big chunk of time to do something without interruptions, I almost always get not only a large quantity of work done, it's also at a much higher quality.

    When I'm constantly switching focus, I realize that there is instead a huge lack of focus.

    Great article, thanks!

  • Rama says:

    Nicely put together. I did read and believe that multi tasking is a myth. It only exists in the illusion of the modern man.

  • David says:

    An excellent article indeed.

    Hopefully not too late to change old habits of an old dog

  • David says:

    An excellent article indeed.
    Hopefully not too late to change old habits of an old dog

  • susan says:

    thanks… interesting ideas… but why does it always have to cost sooo much?… that adds resistance as most people are counting each dollar they spend these days….wish it was more like…now dont get mad $29.99….(are you still reading?) then not only i would take a chance but sooo many hundreds more would too…i know this is what you do for a living but still for a download on a computer dont you want to reach more people than less?

    i tend to feel in order to get this world and crazy life on track we all need to offer our gifts to reach the masses… then we are really accomplishing more than what seems like one purchase at a time… we are building a stronger sense of life for all…

    thanks fro sharing and listening…susan

  • susan says:

    thanks… interesting ideas… but why does it always have to cost sooo much?… that adds resistance as most people are counting each dollar they spend these days….wish it was more like…now dont get mad $29.99….(are you still reading?) then not only i would take a chance but sooo many hundreds more would too…i know this is what you do for a living but still for a download on a computer dont you want to reach more people than less?
    i tend to feel in order to get this world and crazy life on track we all need to offer our gifts to reach the masses… then we are really accomplishing more than what seems like one purchase at a time… we are building a stronger sense of life for all…

    thanks fro sharing and listening…susan

  • Rosemary says:

    I agree with Susan. This is priceless information, but there are so many programs out there, and only so much time and money in which to partake of them. I've already spent about an hour reading about the program, and all that has done is make me feel guilty about how much time I am wasting during my day. I'll start with cleaning my desks at home and at the office, and maybe you can send this article to me later.

  • Ankur says:

    Very true. Rapid switch tasking is certainly wasteful, harmful. On the other hand, I find that if I switch tasks at work after an hour or more, I sometimes get fresh insight or ideas, get past mental blocks etc. But I know you're talking about the subtle moment-to-moment switchtasking we are often doing. Nice article – will check out your other material.

  • Ankur says:

    Very true. Rapid switch tasking is certainly wasteful, harmful. On the other hand, I find that if I switch tasks at work after an hour or more, I sometimes get fresh insight or ideas, get past mental blocks etc. But I know you're talking about the subtle moment-to-moment switchtasking we are often doing. Nice article – will check out your other material.

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