The Cult of Multi-Tasking

Hi my name is Tom, and I am a multi-tasker.

I confess.

Far too often I am so busy checking my email, writing a message, answering a text, writing down an idea (possibly at the same time) that I miss the person standing right in front of me. Sometimes I think this is part of the way God has wired me while at other times I realise I’ve been seduced by words like “quick” and “efficient.”

Sometimes I think I’m addicted to “being productive” and forget to simply “be”.

I know I have spoken about this topic many times before, but I really believe it is a major problem in our culture today – a problem that stresses us out and destroys relationships.

Turns out in fact, that not only does it mess with our sense of well-being, but it also kills productivity. There is loads of scientific data out there now that proves this, and shows that multi-tasking is really not the best strategy for effectiveness.

In an interesting article and study entitled “The Cult of Multitasking”, it was found that the average employee loses 2.1 hours of productivity every day to interruptions and distractions, and that each day a typical office employee checks e-mail 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times. It goes on to say…

The cult of multitasking would have us believe that compulsive message-checking is the behavior of an always-on, hyper-productive worker. But it’s not. It’s the sign of a distracted employee who misguidedly believes he can do multiple tasks at one time. Science disagrees. People may be able to chew gum and walk at the same time, but they can’t do two or more thinking tasks simultaneously.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that productivity dropped as much as 40 percent when subjects tried to do two or more things at once. The switching exacts other costs, too — mistakes and burnout. One of the study’s authors, David Meyer, asserts bluntly that quality work and multitasking are incompatible.

So, it’s confession time. Are you in the cult?

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39 Comments on “The Cult of Multi-Tasking

  1. Came across your blog in freshly pressed, lots of great stuff on here – as a recent college grad who sometimes struggles with productivity and general early 20s angst I think this will be really helpful. Subsribed!

  2. Deary me. I wish I didn’t sympathise with this. But I do.

    Like Ryan G I’ve also arrived via freshly pressed (and have also gone down the postgrad route… and in fact sympathise with everything in his comment as well) and am thoroughly enjoying your writing. Will be back often!

  3. I AM trying to be a single-tasker, but my community won’t just accept that. They think that a successful person has to be able to process many information at once, talking to many person at once, finishing something while still remember other completely unrelated things to do, etc. And they all frowned at me when they hear me state my opinion that I’m overloaded and can only process things one by one, so either all of you has to queued up or I’ve to write schedule down, but there’s no way I could simultaneously finished them all in one go.

    Sometimes, it isn’t rare for me to raise my hands and say “wait a minute, let me finish this first, or I could ended up not listening at all to what you’re going to say.” hahah. but great post. I definitely will coming back for more. 🙂

    • thanks for the great comment! Multi-tasking is a major problem for so many people in pour fast=paced culture today, and i’m personally still trying to figure this one out…

  4. Totally hear ya!
    (read this blog while answering phone and email).
    I would not mind being a single tasker, although it is impossible if you have kids and a job and a family. Maybe one day…when I am retired …before all the grandchildren…I will enjoy my time of doing only one thing at one time! By the way-I NEVER answer my phone when I am shopping 😉 Does that count?

    • Hahaha. I hear you. It’s tough. I have just become a dad, and “me time” is out the window. But I do think there are “seasons” n life where balanace shifts and we need to adjust. They key is having a plan and being disciplined.

  5. I have to admit it, I am working on ten things at this very moment! I am drinking an energy drink, losing all my hair, and hating my life. I wish I had time to slow down and focus on one thing, but I am in college and work full time. What to do what to do?

  6. Hello Tom,

    Thank you. Your blog inspires me and encourages me. I think I just may add this to my Blogroll.

    ~Susan

  7. I agree with your opinion, I have been religiously trying to single task. Its hard though, we get so used to checking e-mail every few minutes that we need the distraction while working. I find that single tasking makes me feel peaceful and composed and much more productive.

    The one tip I can share is that I block time on my calendar to do work, so that no meetings/calls are scheduled then. At this time, I take myself to a conference room and finish up things on my todo list. It has been challenging though.

  8. “Are you in the cult?” YES!!! Because everyone else is! Time to get out. I’ve always been terrible at multitasking anyways.

    Your blog is great by the way. I am enjoying these posts. 🙂

  9. This is really good stuff. I’ve made sure some people are redirected here! Everyone is guilty of it at one point or another. I know I am! We should just keep our lives simple by doing one thing at a time, especially in the information age.

  10. I am so into this cult that the only time I manage to escape it is during a yoga class and when I walk home from the class in a blissful state of being. Trying to “Be” more often but alas I have some serious practicing to do !

  11. Hi. I just discovered your blog. I think you are doing an awesome job so consider me signed as another subscriber. 🙂 Yes, I am a multitasker. As a medical technologist I had to learn how to do this in my job, but over the years I somehow let this capability enter in my non-work life. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad because I do get stressed out and I don’t get anything done. So I try not to stress, but it is a challenge.

  12. I constantly see my college students “multi-tasking” when they should be paying attention. I’m trying to tell them that doing several things at once results in nothing being accomplished. I’ve been using the buzzword “single-task” for over a year now. (Hopefully you’re more influential than I am!)

  13. Hi Tom.
    I just discovered your blog. I am brazilian and still don’t write in English very well. But I needed to comment just to tell you that I enjoyed your texts very much and I am following your blog. As a management student, your texts seems very interesting to discuss about in the human resources discipline at University.

    Congratulations for the great postings. And… I confess! I am a multitasker. And like Helen said is good sometimes, but sometimes this makes me feel bad.

    Hope you understand.

  14. I multitask. Or atleast try to, and at times I dont even get any work done. I guess it means I have trouble focusing. Life now for eg, I am typing this comment, and in the mean while, checking my phone, quickly typed my status on Facebook (yeah, I know!) trying to download a song on my iPod…sigh! Sometimes it stresses me out. But I am trying to take it easy nowadays..hope I dont multitask in that too! 🙂

    P.S: I like your blog!

  15. haha multi-tasking or plain old distraction?….yes, choosing what is most important taking it to completion seems to be the mastery…..yet concentration in a world of multiplicity and immediate gratification seems like a dying art. Its an age of illusion, delusion and confusion….I like you’re post though…..entertaining…

  16. Tom, I’m from Thailand, possibly my english is not good enough,
    From my point of view that if we can be prioritized our job in the of multi-skilled based on 80 : 20
    do 20 result in 80.

    I’m one of multi-tasker, Now …. I try to do more with 20 %

    Hope you understand what I need to share.

  17. Oh my! And this is perfect as well! The world around us is so crazy and encourages us to think/act/go 100MPH! This is a great reminder to, instead of pummeling though things, to take the time to focus on each project at a time; invest the time needed for a good product, versus trying to finish all seven at the same time. As the age old saying goes, Quality over Quantity. Thank you!
    -AJM

  18. Hey Tom. I have ADD, so I know all about trying to multitask. I even think of things while I’m reading. It’s good that the article mentioned ‘Thinking Tasks’. If you want to multitask, make sure the tasks are compatible. I like to draw while talking to friends on the phone. Or listen to podcast while jogging. That way I can use both sides of my brain I guess.

    Anyway, good article. I, too, found you through Freshly Pressed. You have a very insightful blog My Brother!

  19. Hi Tom! I’m Shelley and I’m a multi-tasker.

    When I’m online, I open a minimum of 5 tabs, which usually increases to 10, sometimes 15.

    I’m able to cook, clean the house, and do laundry all on mornings when I don’t have work, and when I work, well, let’s say I juggle different tasks (and roles) as well.

    Your blog is so positive, and I love how you figure God into the daily little things. Thank you for spreading positivity (and weirdness and practical Christianity) into the blogosphere.

  20. I am sooo in the cult but I think a lot of that comes from job pressure. It is one of the main qualities that all companies look for. I think once you get sucked in it is hard to get out. I also think it is why so many of us (workers) don’t sleep well anymore our brains are geared to be in overdrive and doesn’t want to shut down when it’s time to sleep.

  21. Pingback: 16 More Tips to Simplify Your Life « tom.basson

  22. Pingback: 991/2 Just Won’t Do | writersfield

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