Multitasking is a Myth

multitasking John Kalinowski

Look at the guy above. He looks so confident in his ability to effectively do 15 things at one time. But, the fact is, “multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth,” as detailed by Dr. John J. Medina in his book, “Brain Rules.” He goes on to say that, “businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes.” Basically, we’ve created this myth to accommodate our ever-expanding and often overwhelming lives, leading many to believe that they can “do it all” and nothing suffers. This is scientifically proven to be wrong. In fact, an article in Fast Company Magazine, What Multitasking Does to Your Brain, explains how the more you multitask the less proficient you actually become at multitasking.

In some ways our brains are still very limited, in that they cannot efficiently focus on multiple tasks at the same time. For example, whenever I switch from one task to another, even if just to look at my phone in the middle of writing this piece, my mind is like a train and has to slow down, switch tracks, then speed up again as I focus on my phone. When I go back to writing, my mind slows down, switches tracks, and gains speed as I refocus on writing. Of course this is all happening at a relatively fast pace (and much faster than switching tracks on the NYC subway), but it does dramatically slow down my overall productivity.

So, how do we keep the brain-train moving at a steady clip? I find that I am more productive when I turn off my email, phone, and all other distractions while writing. Granted there are times when I can only stay in a writing-mindset for 15-20 minutes before I give into an urge for another glass of water, a bathroom break, or a quick glance at Facebook or Instagram, but it’s still a whole lot better than switching tracks every minute or two. There will always be distractions (bosses, coworkers, kids), but half the battle is just accepting that we are less productive when trying to engage in all of these distractions at once. It’s when we own that fact and create guidelines to help us to better focus on one task at a time, then we can make it into a habit which will eventually help that brain-train to start flying full speed ahead.

Have a beautiful week!

John Kalinowski
John Kalinowski is a Redding native based in New York. He’s an NYU-Certified Life Coach, Mindfulness Expert, Columnist, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Traveler, Art-Lover, and Truth-Teller. You can connect with him on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, or visit his website at johnkalinowski.com.
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9 Responses

  1. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    I have NEVER claimed I could multi-task. In fact, friends and family with concur that I claim loud and long that I can NOT multi-task. This relieves me of a great deal of anxiety . . . and responsibility. As in, “I can’t do this and that too, so you take that.”  It usually works, and when it doesn’t? Oh, well. I TOLD you I couldn’t multi-task! LOL!!

    • John John says:

      Too funny. I’m a terrible multi-tasker too. I can’t even grocery shop and talk on the phone at the same time. I’m surprised I can walk and talk without falling over.

  2. Avatar Grammy says:

    When I was young I could multi-task.  I think most Mothers have to be able to or nothing would ever get done but watching the kids.  Now I am older and that got thrown out the window.  If I am doing two things now, neither one is done justice to.  Find that if I am writing something I come across as a blithering idiot.  Use to be able to write and all made sense,  spelling good.  But now…all is changed.

    No one told me to appreciate my youth because it all goes down from there.  Big time!

    • John John says:

      I hate the expression, “youth is wasted on the young.” But it’s true! We usually don’t realize how much energy and hope we have, or how attractive we are. But, I do not believe that you come across as a blithering idiot. lol

  3. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    Even when the term multitasking became entrenched in our language, I didn’t believe it.  It seemed to appear about the time that women were supposed to be able to do it all:  bear children, work 50 hours a week, do their own housework,  break through the glass ceiling, attend their children’s extracurricular events, and still have time to look glamorous.  Seemed impossible in the ’60’s and even less so now.  Neither brains nor bodies can possibly work that way.  I don’t even like to have music playing while I’m trying to concentrate; so multitasking never applied to me.  Thank you, John Kalinowski, for shining a needed light on this misconception.

    • John John says:

      Thank you for your comment! The expectations for women have always been, and continue to be, absurd. I think more women are finally just starting to stand up for themselves, but geez, it sure does take time.

  4. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Wonderful article John.  I think multitasking is necessary to survive in some situations; but the tasks have to be simple rote tasks.  Some jobs take too much brain attention to be shared effectively with other tasks.  Having a meaningful conversation with another person takes up too much brain power to be shared with a big job such as driving a car or a train.   That brain slow down between switching from texting or talking on the phone is too critical for driving a car which truly takes takes all the brain power a person has.  A nano second delay in response time can be critical.   I can tell by the voice tone on the phone when my conversation is secondary to another task….cooking, playing a video game….  thank you for a great article.

    • John John says:

      Thank you for your note. I could not agree more. I mean, I can cook and have a light conversation, but anything deeper and I start forgetting ingredients.

  5. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Joanne brought another thought to light. There are some activities that can be done by rote muscle memory.  I do that all the time when  performing. My hands know the keys or strings just by having played a piece so many times so that I can concentrate on the lyrics. Many times when I’m playing , if I’m not singing, I’m thinking about what I’m going to fix for dinner or what errand I have to run on the way home. But I don’t think of this as multitasking. My muscles are on auto pilot so my mind is only doing one thing. I know dancers perform that way all the time.  Typing (keyboarding) is another muscle memory task. There are many I”m sure. Interesting, thought provoking discussion.