The Myth Of Multitasking

Why multitasking is not working

Why Multitasking Is Not WorkingYou are on the phone with your client when you get the notification that your boss just sent a time-critical e-mail. You don't want to keep your boss waiting, so you reply to his e-mail while you're still in the conversation with your client.

Soon you receive another e-mail from your boss. Only this time he sounds impatient.  Apparently, you were only addressing two of the three points of his message. Then you realize that you forgot what the client said about his deadlines.  You will have to call your client again and ask him to repeat the information.

Or maybe you are the boss. Good for you because in that case, people will likely only complain behind your back.

You and me, we've all been in similar situations.

For the longest time, we have been told that as highly efficient human beings we have to be able to multitask and adapt to the demands of an increasingly stressful work environment and new technologies.

Multitasking does not describe a situation when we are idling. For instance, it does not apply if we are on hold and we check our e-mail inbox while we are waiting for our conversation partner

But does multitasking really lead to an increase in productiveness?

1. Multitasking leads to more mistakes

In general, multitasking leads to making more mistakes. Correcting those mistakes often takes more time than focusing on a task in the first place.

A current example is Pokémon Go. Recent studies suggest that the cognitive abilities of people who are hunting monsters while driving their cars are comparable to those of a 10 to 30 year older person.

The problem increases when we are trying to do tasks that use the same cognitive resources. This is why it is legal to use hands-free devices while driving. Studies have shown that people who are engaged in a phone conversation overlook more than double the amount of traffic signs than individuals who are not talking on the phone. They also react slower in critical situations.

In the example of the multitasker that is talking to his client and tries to read it or even answer his e-mails at the same time, it is likely that he will miss part of the conversation. Potentially important parts.

It is highly frustrating when someone replies to your message and obviously has read only half of your e-mail. The same applies to the person on the phone.  Your client will likely not be happy if they have to repeat information they´ve already given you.

In a conversation, the most important information are often not the facts but the emotion of your conversation partner. The things that are not being said. It is more than unlikely that you would be able to understand the emotions of the person you are talking to if you are reading and replying to e-mails at the same time.

2. Multitasking leads to stress

Not only is job burnout a huge problem that is on the rise and presents a huge health threat. Stress is also the happiness killer number one.

You can read my detailed article about job burnout, consequences, and remedies here. AVOIDING JOB BURNOUT

Stress can lead to severe mental and physical issues. If you are stressed at your workplace it will sooner or later also result in problems in your personal relationships.

Unhappy, stressed out people do not deliver great results.

3. Scientific proof and multitasking

What has been proven is that automatic tasks run smooth in multitasking mode. The reason for that is that our frontal lobe is not required to fulfill these duties and therefore does not require resources needed for creative thinking.

Psychologists of the renowned Standford University show in the Clifford Nass study that multitaskers have a hard to time to separate relevant from irrelevant facts. Apparently, they spread their attention to all information alike and lose the ability to focus on the important points.

Some go as far as saying that multitasking can damage your career. I tend to agree.


Multitasking is inefficient. You will achieve the best results if you do one thing at a time and you do it properly. Giving the task at hand your full attention helps you to avoid unnecessary and time costly mistakes.

Communication and relationships benefit from undivided attention as well.

Naturally, this is not always possible in these times that require us to focus on several sources of information at once.

But even small changes can bring relief. For instance, turn off push notifications and check your e-mails manually every 15 or 30 minutes. Shut off your phone while you are working on an important task that requires your cognitive abilities.

Todo lists help to focus on important tasks - most of the time notifications from social networks are not one of them.