Important Secrets About Multitasking You want To Know

Among the attributes that lassoed me a husband, the one I was most proud of was my “incredible multi-tasking ability.” (Others included snorkeling skills, the art of napping, salad construction, and the fact I owned a KD Lange CD.)

But the fairest of them all was the fact that I could get crap done and in a hurry. I recall several situations where I turned sagely over my shoulder and reminded him, “Don’t worry, I am an awesome multi-tasker.” (Cue head tilt, hair flip.)

Over the years, in his gentle way, Brent slowly brought to my attention that I might not be as adept at doing many things at one time as I once thought. Lost keys, forgotten appointments, missed deadlines and spelling mistakes were just a few breadcrumbs trailing behind me that evidenced he was, in fact, correct.

I am a sucky multi-tasker. Good news for me? I am not alone. Science is now revealing we all are.


We live in a time where many think that “busyness” equals personal value, “doing more” makes you better, and “doing nothing” is a waste of precious time. The concept that multitasking is a great skill to possess is going to require some societal undoing.

But changing our perspectives on multitasking is worth it. Our fractured focus and lack of awareness on the present moment are becoming a bigger problem.

I was listening to a webinar by Amy Porterfield recently, (while on the treadmill and checking my phone.) It revealed the concept of “The Cost Of Context Switching”. The speaker, Todd Herman of The Peak Athlete, spoke about that when we occupy time segments with more than one project there is a cost of conversion as we transition from one project to the next. Meaning if you try to handle several projects A, B, C and D in a particular time segment, each instance you mentally switch from one to the other causes a mental disconnect. It takes time and energy to shift your brain and to ramp up to the next task.

Todd revealed that it is worse than you think.

A study done on this very subject tells us that each additional project we try to juggle, we logarithmically loose productivity, not linearly. (See Figure.)

Thanks to Todd Herman at The Peak Athlete For This Table.
Thanks to Todd Herman at The Peak Athlete For This Table.

The diagram above really impacted my line of thinking. When I structured the projects I want to distribute across my schedule in 2016, I thought closely about where and how I was going to spend my time.

An article in this month’s Experience Life Magazine (best magazine on the planet) discusses that perhaps busyness isn’t productivity; perhaps it is just overload and that our brains were not intended to work like computers on multiple tracks. It has been repeatedly shown that we are far more effective when we put distractions aside and focus on one task at a time. 


And possibly more does not make us better. Timothy Ferris, in his book the 4-hour body, writes about “MED” or The Minimal Effective Dose of things. Like discerning how long you actually need to sleep, prepare meals, finish your workload, do the basics of yard work. Perhaps finding out our personal MED of life tasks will help us remove ourselves from the “more is better” gerbil wheel. It’s okay to read half a book –YES! To consolidate and only check email twice a day – WHAT?

Finally, the scary concept of doing nothing. Doing nothing allows our brain some margin for spontaneous thought, creativity, and inspiration. This is not permission to do nothing ALL THE TIME. But if you are one of those people who gets a little anxious with idle time then you might want to consider more of it. There is an excellent book entitled Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, and Financial and Time Reserves To Our Overloaded Lives. The author proposes that many of our health issues come from a lack of margin in our life. I think he might be onto something.

So as we launch into this year, guns cocked, goals and aspirations clenched between our teeth; maybe we pause for a moment. Consider that busyness does not make any of us more important and “more” is not necessarily better. 


Now, go waste some time.

(Cue head tilt, hair flip.)

Just found another great article on how multitasking messes up your brain! HERE

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So what can you do to ease up the pressure on yourself this week? To what do you need to say “no”. Where can you eliminate “schedule fluff”? (one word – NETFLIX) Really be honest with yourself. What do you need to shed that is not allowing margin in your life? Busy does not make you better it just makes you busy.

63 Responses

  1. Really interesting. It’s funny because I was listening to a podcast this morning talking about the importance of doing nothing. That you need time to just sit and think, and that’s how really good ideas and dreams are usually formed.

    1. For sure Becky! I think that is so true. I get my best creative ideas in those situations. Like right as I am falling asleep (doing nothing!)

  2. There are many times when I pride myself on being a multitasker, but I never really thought about the cost. It was very surprising to see how much time we’re actually losing by doing too much at once.

  3. I already knew that multitasking is anti-productive, but I didn’t know to what degree! Great information! No wonder I am not getting as much done as I’d like!

    1. I know, Jamie. It is tricky isn’t it? I don’t think the message is never “multitask” but to have an awareness about the fact we are not as effective when we are trying to do it AND that tasks are better completed if we focus on that one task for a little bit longer periods of time. Thanks for commenting.

  4. You also cannot listen well if your attention is split between the person speaking and your device. Think about the people who attend meetings and are always checking their email! I hope all Type As read this one. Multi-tasking doesn’t trump “focus” as a prized skill.

    1. Of course Katie, I loved writing this one because when stressed I lean into MT again and that never is effective!

  5. I’m an incredible multitasker, which works to my advantage most of the time. However, I can always tell when I’ve done too much multitasking because it just wipes me out and I end up too exhausted. It’s good to do it in moderation.

    1. Agreed. We are all going to do it at some point. But having an awareness around its limitations is important. 🙂

  6. I actually hate multitasking, and am terrible at it. I don’t really think anyone’s that great at it, to be honest… People just seem distracted. I work best when I focus on one thing, finish it, then move on to another.

    1. Thank you! I really got into this one. I find when I write about stuff I struggle with it always comes out more easily!

  7. I’m totally one of those that takes pride in being a “good” multi-tasker, but I also agree that there is a little mental disconnect like you mention. That table really does lay it out! This will be helpful in my planning process, thank you!

    1. That’s awesome, Angie! Ya, I don’t think it is about never doing it #impossibleforwomen. But having a consciousness about it.

  8. I used to think I was totally awesome for multi-tasking…it’s only been in recent times that I’ve worked out it’s actually not a good thing (most of the time, anyways!) and I get sooooo much more done when I focus on one thing at a time. Thanks for some great reminders 🙂

    1. I think it has to be a conscious effort. The world asks us to be multitaskers. We regularly have to put the hand up, right?

  9. LOL. I love this. Because I’m realizing more and more as I grow that I can’t multi-task. It’s just not in the cards… Not only is multi-tasking non-existent, it actually causes me to loose my focus easily and be LESS productive… Great post, pointing out what everyone really needs to understand… multi-tasking isn’t a thing 😉

  10. YES! I also used to think I was great at “multi-tasking” but really I was kidding myself. I’m really trying to slow down this year and be present with one thing at any given moment and a little more realistic with my time. Also, I love that your husband was attracted to your “art of napping” ha! I think I have that skill, too 🙂

    1. Not everyone is a napper. Thank God he is. Yesterday we crashed in the bed, ski clothes and all, and “power purred” for an hour. Bliss!

  11. If you haven’t heard of Alison Armstrong and her work on Understanding Men, you should check it out. The multi tasking is actually diffuse awareness… being able to keep attention on several things at once. Men are single focused. Typically… to levels and degrees of course. And there are benefits and detriments to both. That hard thing for women is that their minds typically don’t give priority to everything they are aware of at the moment. A big report due has the same importance in the moment as the cupboard door slightly ajar. Anyway…it’s kind of fascinating. I would love natural single focus… but then again, I’d miss a lot going around me:)

    1. Nicely said! I will check that out. Yes, I think we are wired to have a network of consciousness, not a stream, like men…but, we need to be aware there is a cost of focus to that. How else can you keep track of multiple kids? It’s innately wired for sure. I just think we ask too much of the skill. Xo

  12. I do multitasking a lot..not because I want to do things this way but because I need to multitask. I procrastinate a lot and this is one thing that I need to change first. And this is the reason why I need to multitask. You are so right, the quality of our work is usually compromised when we multitask.

  13. I get so bored staring at one thing at a time. I’ve known for a long time that it’s bad for you or in any case, not nearly as effective as we’d all like to believe. But I think societal norms have turned us into major clickers… constantly feeding the need to stimulate our brains with new visuals.

    It’s kind of ingrained in us from childhood starting with TV and movies and as we grow, to internet and video streaming. It makes us feel like we aren’t getting the most up to date information or like we’re somehow missing out on something unless we click around and multitask.

    Sorry to get all… philosophical. Haha

    1. I love it Kim. I see it in my kid patients a lot! Where do you think ADD emerged from? You are absolutely right though. Conscious, consistent effort is the only way to address it. Xo

  14. I heard that same Amy Porterfield podcast. It has really changed the way that I look at my to-do list. And I feel like since I’ve re-structured my work day to include less changing of tasks during the day, I do get so much more done and have more free time. This is something that should be talked about more because so many people feel strung out and like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

  15. This concept is eye opening. I am a multi-tasker, but what mom isn’t? LOL I can definitely work on how and when I multi-task though. Very helpful post. Thanks!

    1. Ya, Jenny. I think it is mostly about the awareness and not holding up the “ability” as a gold standard. As women we will always do it. How much though depends on our awareness of the fact that we might actually get more done if we didn’t. Xo

  16. Great topic, I agree 100% with it! to really do well at a project you need to focus just on that project… same with people, you can only give someone your undivided attention if you put everything else on hold. (which is important).

    1. Huge point there, Eloise. The other night we went to dinner and all four of us left our phones at home. Loved it.

  17. Isn’t it crazy to think that multi-tasking isn’t doable? That’s how I got through college – multi-tasking. And now, I would never dream of it! I think that my productivity has increased since I gave up multi-tasking.

  18. This sounds about right. Although for me, I only multitask when one task gets to the point that I have to wait before I can take it any further. For example, put laundry in the washing machine then prep a meal and put it in the oven. There’s nothing you can do at that point so why not wash the kitchen. Then the laundry dings and moves to the dryer and so on.

    1. Great observation! Yes! That totally works. I do that if a page is taking FOREVER to load. Thanks for bringing that point up!

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