Multitasking: A Direct Path to Failure

2016-0124 Multitasking

Excerpt of an article written by Travis Bradberry |Inc.

In the morning, when you have lots to do, tons of energy, and it feels like you can do two or three things at once, it is tempting to multitask, but it sets your whole day back. Research conducted at Stanford University confirmed that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? The Stanford researchers compared groups of people on the basis of their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers (those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance) were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch!

My Opinion

Many people have, knowingly or unknowingly, a belief that multitasking is a good thing. I am not sure where or when the belief originated. Perhaps, it came from school when we tried to meet the impossible time commitments. Maybe, the idea originated from ill-informed consultants or managers who believe working smarter and increased efficiency require multitasking.

The fact is people cannot multitask, and trying to prove they can only proves they cannot. At this time, even the fastest computers cannot multitask; they simply switch between tasks so quickly it appears they are multitasking. I think it is safe to conclude people cannot multitask if computers, that change tasks faster than people, cannot.


Click here to read another Beyond Adversity post.

Thanks to Travis Bradberry for writing the article from which the except came; Inc. for committing its resources to the article; Google for helping me find the article; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text in this post.


    1. Wait, you had to stop typing to let the dog out. I am not buying the evidence of multitasking, unless you tell me you are chewing gum, talking on the phone, typing, and letting your dog out at the exact same time.

  1. I disagree with the blanket statement that all multitasking is inefficient. I believe people multitask all the time without realizing that is what they are doing. For example, I am writing this post at the same time I am watching my dog sleep, which I am doing because he is dreaming, and I find it entertaining. If I had chose to do those tasks separately, it surely would have taken longer.

    A more practical example is one I do every week. On Thursday it is my job to wash the towels. So before I walk down the hall to my office, I put the towels in the washer, then start my work tasks. When I am ready for a work break, I stop at the laundry room on my way to the kitchen and put the towels in the dryer. After my break I return to my office until lunch. By then the towels are dry and I return them to their proper places.

    Multitasking doesn’t require rapidly switching between tasks hundreds of times an hour. It only requires that two or more tasks happen concurrently.

    Thinking about it from another viewpoint, how many managers would keep their jobs if they could only manage one person at a time?

    1. John, I respect your opinion and I very much appreciate your comment, but I don’t believe you are truly multitasking. My guess is if you were to video tape yourself you would see you stop typing for a moment or two while you look at the dog. The way you described washing clothes is clearly not multitasking. Clearly you cannot stuff the washer at the exact same moment as you are typing. You wash the clothes on your way to the computer and your remember to move clothes from the washer to the drying when you stop working. Now, if you said you can chew gum at the same time as you walk, I would have difficulty disputing the proof of multitasking.

  2. One thing I know about multitasking is that, through my use of voice recognition software, I have been able, successfully, to multitask, again.

    And, the weird thing about that is the fact that the software, itself, makes multitasking happen, involuntarily.

    You speak your thoughts into a microphone and your words flash up onto your computer screen, without your having to type or move.

    You move your cursor on your screen with voice commands, too. What this allowed me to do was empty my mind completely and call of my ideas were and are captured, on-screen, and all I gave to do is monitor them.

    In effect, I’ve been able to resume multitasking, based on the fact that, in using voice recognition software since 2003, my short-term-memory deficit has resurged; only, sometimes, still, it sometimes feels like I’m rocking back too far in my chair, if I’m having to trust my memory, alone.

    That’s why I’m rarely found without my phone or tablet. They are my meanscfor reassurance.

    1. Matt, I think what you do with voice recognition software is fantastic, and there is no doubt in my mind, the software makes your life easier, but where we disagree is your example are benefits rather than proof of multitasking. Perhaps, you and I have a different definition of multitasking. Speaking into a microphone and watching your words appear on the screen is not multitasking — you are doing one thing and the computer is doing another thing. It is probably true that process alone save you a lot of time every day, but proof of saving time is not proof of multitasking.

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