There’s No Such Thing As Multitasking

(My friend Stephen Thompson, CEO of FocalPoint Business Coaching, wrote a great article a while ago. I liked it so much that I’ve asked Steve for permission to republish it here. Enjoy!)

I want to revisit one of my favorite topics…multitasking.

Multitasking is something that we all do every day, even though we’ve been warned not to do so. MuWe have so much work to do that we attempt to do it all at the same time. The problem with that is that our brain cannot multitask – it can’t do two cognitive things simultaneously. Sure, you can walk and chew gum at the same time or talk on the phone and make dinner, but you can’t do two cognitive things at the same time. For example, you can’t speak on the phone and read a book at the same time. Our brains are not designed to do that.

If you think you’re multitasking, all you are doing is switching between two things really fast – which is a very slow way to do anything.

If you don’t believe me, here’s an exercise to try at home.

Take out a sheet of paper. Draw a line down the center of the paper to create two columns. As the header of the left column, write “Number.” In the right column, make the heading “Letters.”

Now time yourself writing under the Numbers column, 1 to 26. With the time still going, go under the Letters column and write the letters from A to Z. Stop the timer when you’re done.

Take out another sheet of paper and set it up like you did last time with the two columns – Numbers and Letters.

Now, time yourself again, but this time you’re going to alternate between Numbers and Letters – so you’ll write 1 on the numbers side and then write A on the letters side – 2 on the numbers side and B on the letters side, and so forth. When you reach Z, stop the timer.

I can almost guarantee that your time was much slower than the first time you did it. Not only that, but I can also ensure that the second time you did, it was more frustrating: you had to think more, and you were more prone to mistakes.

This is what multitasking is like: constantly switching from numeric to alpha using too much brainpower, frustrated, and making mistakes.

The best practice is picking one task, seeing it through to the end, and avoiding multitasking.

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