Doing 2 things at once = Multi-Tasking
Doing 3 things at once = Multi-Tasking
Where did all this multi-tasking start?
Where has this come from and WHY?
Is multi-tasking of any benefit to us?
Does multi-tasking take us off track?
Do we think we are super human when we multi-task?
Do we think we are Smarter than the average jo when we multi-task because it is just our normal?
Do we find ourselves boasting about how much we get done because we have nailed this multi-tasking business?
Do we show off on Social Media uploading images of all the things we can do with our multi-tasking hat on?
Do we believe that without multi-tasking we would need to work around the clock 24/7 as there is not enough time?
Do we have a racy lifestyle and getting things done at quick speed means multi-tasking is on the daily agenda?
Do we ignore the signs when we slip up, mess up, trip up or have an accident whilst multi-tasking?
How does multi-tasking serve us in our every day life?
What is the purpose of multi-tasking in our daily life?
What do we really achieve when we switch back and forth from one thing to another?
What do we gain from performing a number of tasks in rapid succession?
Why do our employers expect us to multi-task at work?
Why does the CEO think it’s important to multi-task?
Why do we think we can reach our goals if we multi-task?
Why do we associate success with multi-tasking?
Why do we champion and endorse multi-tasking like it is a trophy or accolade in one’s life?
Why have we got so much information on the Internet about tips and how to combat multi-tasking?
Why are we ignoring this Stanford University study where the authors wrote
“Multi-tasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time.” (1, 2)
Decade of Data – Heavy Multi-Taskers Have Reduced Memory
People who frequently engage with multiple types of Media at once performed worse on simple memory tasks, according to the last decade of research.
Multi-tasking is not efficient. If you are doing something significant like a work project, you will be slower to complete it.
Professor of Psychology Anthony Wagner at Stanford University and Director of Stanford Memory Clinic (3)
We do not multi-task according to Professor Wagner.
We task switch. The word “multi-tasking” implies that you can do two or more things at once, but in reality our brains only allow us to do one thing at a time and we have to switch back and forth.
Heavy media multi-taskers have many media channels open at once and they switch between them. A heavy media multi-tasker may be writing an academic paper on a laptop, checking the basketball game on TV, responding to texts or social media messages and then back to writing. Then they see an email pop up and go to check it while writing.
A light media multi-tasker would only be writing the academic paper or may only switch between a couple of media. They may turn off wi-fi, switch their mobile phone off or change their settings to get notified every hour.
There is not a single published paper that shows a significant positive relationship between working memory capacity and multi-tasking. (3)
WHY not just stop here and take note?
Do we really need more research telling us the same thing in a different way or will this do the job?
We are not wired to operate with more than one thing and that means Focus on the task in hand.
There is no need to digress, deviate or distract ourselves, as what matters is the quality in which we execute the task in hand be it big, significant or the small stuff.
Let us put that into a practical Simple way …
We have a work project and we think we need to give it our all and then some more, so we do our best to concentrate on the job and nothing else. However, at home we need to Empty the Trash, Clean the Toilet and Tidy Up, but we see these minor tasks as not so important and so we give it little attention and try to do it in between other tasks or ignore them as the TV or Social Media seem to distract us away.
But what if the quality in which we carry out one task at a time, where our mind is with us whilst our body does the job brings a steadiness, because our focus is not all over the place, bouncing around in our head, thinking of another thing whilst trying to execute what is under our nose and in front of us to action?
What if we made this a norm in daily life and stuck to just completing one task at a time – imagine that?
Why are those involved in multi-tasking unable to pay attention or recall information as opposed to someone who completes one task at a time?
Why is this same study(1) telling us that multi-tasking can damage our brain and that frequent multi-taskers performed worse because they had trouble organising their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information?
Are we living life in the Danger Zone with our multi-tasking?
Are we Pushing against that thing called time and that is why we multi-task?
Are we being Fooled when we take on time as the enemy and let it dominate our every thought?
Are we feeling Smart and clever because we can multi-task but never ever thought about the consequences?
Are we forgetting how to Focus properly because multi- tasking means we are all over the place?
Are we going around and around in circles when we switch from one task to the next with our multi-tasking behaviour?
Switching from one task to another makes it difficult to tune out distractions and can cause mental blocks that can slow you down.
Doing so many different things at once can actually impair cognitive ability.
The Importance of Executive Function
In the brain, multi-tasking is managed by executive functions. These control and manage cognitive processes and determine how, when and in what order certain tasks are performed.
There are two stages to the executive control process according to a research study (4)
1. Goal Shifting: Deciding to do one thing instead of another
2. Role Activation: Changing from the rules for the previous task to rules for the new task
Moving through these may only add a few tenths of a second, but it can start to add up when people switch back and forth repeatedly. This might not be a big deal when you are folding laundry and watching television at the same time. However, if you are in a situation where safety or productivity is important, such as driving in heavy traffic, even small amounts of time can prove critical. (5)
What are we understanding from this section above?
What if we just join the dots and keep it super Simple – what would common sense tell us about this research study?
Well this back and forth of doing one thing then another does affect us and it all adds up, even if we think it is minor stuff. Nothing executive about that really.
Are we really getting somewhere or nowhere with this doing more than one thing at the same time?
Are we likely to have something go wrong because of our multi-tasking behaviour?
Are our multi-tasking movements proving to be a bit ineffective as we have the evidence?
Why are Women generally associated with multi-tasking?
Is this a clue as to why women have so many problems when it comes to their own health and well-being?
What is the Quality of our work when we complete something as part of our multi-tasking?
What if our multi-tasking habits spill over to all areas of our life and this creates new problems?
For example – driving a vehicle means hands on the wheel placing emphasis on the road ahead to focus. Using all senses to drive the vehicle, not deviate and do anything else. BUT our habits of doing more than one thing and switching continues behind the wheel and we find ourselves eating, talking to the passengers or on our phone, which we know is illegal, but we can’t just switch off and stop that behaviour.
Is this making sense?
What is mr google telling us about multi-tasking?
Well, we are told that there is human multi-tasking and computer multi-tasking.
Human multi-tasking is the ability to perform more than one task or activity at the same time.
Computer multi-tasking is the same in that you can complete multiple tasks at the same time. (6)
There is heaps more online for the reader who needs more knowledge, but to stay in line with this website, we will keep it Simple.
Can we really complete multiple tasks at the same time or if we are being honest, are we just swinging from one thing to another and ‘winging’ it, in the hope we are going to achieve Completion and get more done in a certain time frame?
What are our Dictionary definitions spelling out to us about multi-tasking?
a person’s ability to do more than one thing at a time:
women are often very good at multi-tasking (7)
Oxford English Dictionaries (Lexico)
1. (of a person) deal with more than one task at the same time
2. (of a computer) execute more than one program or task simultaneously (8)
Multi-tasking, in a human context is the practice of doing multiple things simultaneously, such as editing a document or responding to email while attending a teleconference.
The concept of multi-tasking began in a computing context.
Computer multi-tasking similarly to human multi-tasking, refers to performing multiple tasks at the same time. In a computer, multi-tasking refers to things like running more than one application simultaneously.
Current computers are designed for multi-tasking. However, for humans, multi-tasking has been decisively proven to be an ineffective way to work.
Research going back to the 1980s has indicated repeatedly that performance suffers when people multi-task. (9)
For those that missed this important point – research going back 40 years has indicated repeatedly that performance suffers when people multi-task.
This means over and over again we are getting the same message, the same reading, the same findings, the same answers – multi-tasking does not work.
Some research findings about multi-tasking:
- Students – an increase in multi-tasking predicted poorer academic results.
- Multi-taskers took longer to complete tasks and produced more errors
- People had more difficulty retaining new information while multi-tasking.
- Tasks involving producing actions or making selections – even simple tasks performed concurrently were impaired.
- 40% reduction in productivity –
significant time lost switching back and forth between tasks. (10)
- Habitual multi-taskers less effective, even when doing one task at any given time because ability to focus was impaired. (9)
Not anything more to say here other than present it again in Simple words…
Students have poorer results because of multi-tasking
Those who do took longer and made more Mistakes
It was difficult to hold on and retain new information
Productivity reduced significantly, which means a lot
Those who have a habit of multi-tasking were not able to Focus, even when they were doing just one task. So again, more confirmation telling us the same thing.
Technology encouraging more fruitless multi-tasking
89% of people with smartphones use them at work
45% U.S. workers believe they have to work on too many things at once
10.5 minutes average employee is distracted on a computer at work
Studies show that students multi-task while they learn too:
62% of web pages students open on laptops during class, unrelated to topic
And on average they generate 65 new screen windows per lecture.
Smartphones make it hard not to multi-task
When checking email on the Internet via smartphone
67% will do so on a date
45% will at a movie theatre
33% will do so in church
2.1 hours a day average desk job employee loses to distractions and interruptions
546 hours annually
Study – students who do homework while instant messaging or texting, more likely to report academic impairment.
Multi-task in the car
Using a cellphone, handheld or hands-free delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.8%.
Multi-tasking confuses our brain and slows things down:
Concentrating on one task at a time will get the job done much faster. (11)
98% of people – multi-tasking is more harm than good
Studies show that only 2% of people can multi-task effectively
People who multi-task feel like they are accomplishing more but they are actually cutting down their own productivity. (11)
We have almost everyone 98% of us not able to multi-task effectively.
For those interested in how the 2% are performing, read on…
For those who prefer things Simple, move to the next section
A supertasker is someone who performs better when doing multiple things simultaneously than they do when limiting their attention to a single task. (12)
Theory suggests that driving should be impaired for any motorist who is concurrently talking on a cell phone. But is everybody impaired by this dual-task combination?
200 participants were tested in a high-fidelity driving simulator in both singe and dual task conditions. The dual task involved driving while performing a demanding auditory version of the operation span (OSPAN) task*.
Whereas the vast majority of participants showed significant performance decrements in dual-task conditions (compared with single-task conditions for either driving or OSPAN tasks), 2.5% of the sample showed absolutely no performance decrements with respect to performing single and dual tasks. In single-task conditions, these “supertaskers” scored in the top quartile on all dependent measures associated with driving and OSPAN tasks and Monte Carlo simulations indicated that the frequency of supertaskers was significantly greater than chance. (13)
Monte Carlo Simulations – a computerised mathematical technique that allows people to account for risk. (14)
*Operation Span (OSPAN)
a widely used task to assess working memory capacity in which participants try to remember sequentially presented words in their correct order while simultaneously solving simple math equations. (15)
Supertaskers can juggle multiple tasks because their brains are wired for more efficiency. The more they had to do, the more efficient they became. Yet these people had no idea they had this special skill. And so far, little is known about how this skill might affect them in everyday life. (16)
On that note, we could ask some important questions for the 2%
How is life for them every day?
In other words, how are they living?
How does multi-tasking affect them in daily life?
Could their lifestyle choices say more about them and the impact it has on their life?
Even people who are considered heavy multi-taskers are not actually very good at multi-tasking.
Stanford University researcher, Clifford Nass found that people who were considered heavy multi-taskers were actually worse at sorting out relevant information from irrelevant details. They also showed greater difficulty when it came to switching from one task to another and were much less mentally organised.
These results happened even when these heavy multi-taskers were not multi-tasking. The study revealed that even when chronic multi-taskers were focusing on a single task, their brains were less effective and efficient.
Teenagers and Multi-Tasking
Experts suggest the negative impact of chronic, heavy multi-tasking might be the most detrimental to adolescent minds.
At this age, brains are forming important neural connections. Spreading attention so thin and constantly being distracted by different streams of information might have a serious, long-term, negative impact on how these connections form. (5)
Do we really need to say more here?
It really has ALL been said and done
The Question we need to be asking is WHY do we continue to multi-task when we KNOW it has no purpose?
In other words, we have had the realisation, we do know and yet we still subscribe to the multi-tasking bandwagon.
(1) Bradberry, T. (2014, October 8). Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career, New Study Suggests. Forbes. Retrieved November 12, 2020 from
(2) (2015, March 30). How Multi-Tasking 21st Century Style Could Damage Your Brain. Hindustan Times. Retrieved November 12, 2020 from
(3) (2018, October 25). A Decade of Data Reveals that Heavy Multitaskers Have Reduced Memory, Stanford Psychologist Says. Stanford News. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(4) Rubinstein, J.S., Meyer, D.E., & Evans, J.E (2001). Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 27(4) 763-797. Retrieved November 13, 2020 from
(5) Cherry, K. (2020, March 26). How Multitasking Affects Productivity and Brain Health. Very Well. Retrieved November 13, 2020 from
(6) (n.d). Google. Retrieved November 12, 2020 from
(7) (n.d). Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(8) (n.d). Lexico. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(9) Rouse, M. (2013, August). Multitasking (in Humans). WhatIs.com. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(10) (2006). Multitasking: Switching Costs. American Psychological Association. Retrieved November 13, 2020 from
(11) Petronzio, M. (2012, August 13). Only 2% People Can Multitask Successfully [INFOGRAPHIC]. Mashable UK. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(12) Rouse, M. (2019, July). Supertasker. WhatIs.com. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(13) Watson, J.M., & Strayer, D.L. (2010, August 17). Supertaskers: Profiles in Extraordinary Multitasking Ability. Springer Link. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(14) Kenton, W. (2020, August 25). Monte Carlo Simulation. Investopedia. Retrieved November 14, 2020 from
(15) (n.d). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from
(16) Hammond, C. (2017, February 13). A Test Can Identify ‘Supertaskers’, but Only a Few Pass It. BBC Future. Retrieved November 7, 2020 from