Multi-tasking, the Myth

By Sue Voyles / March 7, 2016 /

You’ve probably heard of MythBusters, the Discovery channel show that is now in its farewell season . When my kids were growing up, they were big MythBuster fans (what kid can resist watching things blow up or getting flattened like a pancake?).

I personally like the idea of busting myths. There seems to be many of them out there, even resulting is the term “urban myth.”

One activity that I think is a total myth is multi-tasking and it needs to be busted. The SIMPLE definition of multi-tasking says: the ability to do several things at one time ( but the FULL definition is: the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer. Now that sounds more like it, because whatever we may think about our abilities, the truth is we can only focus on ONE task at a time, not many. We are not computers (and even computers who are overly multi-tasked will crash or freeze up).

No matter what you think, it’s true. You may think you can multitask, but in fact you are just quickly switching from one single task to another.

Still don’t believe me? An article in Psychology Today says: Much recent neuroscience research tells us that the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as we thought (hoped) it might. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly. Each time we move from hearing music to writing a text or talking to someone, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain. See the full article here:

This article even has a little test to demonstrate the idea of how switching from one task to another just ends up taking longer because our brain has to switch gears. So it’s really about efficiency. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like wasting time. And in business, it’s often said that wasted time = wasted money.

A while back I finished reading the book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman. While there is a lot of research and neuroscience in the book, Goleman makes great points about how paying attention has to be exercised like a muscle, which is difficult in today’s world of nonstop distractions. Great leaders, he says, are people with a singular focus. These leaders do not multitask.

So stop believing the myth of multitasking. Start paying attention and focusing so you can be the best at whatever you do.

~Sue Voyles