Multitasking Myth

In relation to computers, we learned how they could multitask, so we started applying the same concept to human behavior. Funny thing is computers don’t really multitask. They do something called parallel processing. What this means is when you give a computer several tasks or commands they divide up the available processing power and then quickly switch back and forth between the tasks until all are finished. They do this by switching really fast so it appears as if the computer is doing several things at at the same time. There are some computers that even have dual microprocessors (the part that does the task). If there are in fact two microprocessors, or brains, then more than one task can be worked on at the same time. Multiple processors = multiple tasks.

Humans only have one brain, or processor. Our brains are so much more complex and amazing than a computer’s processor, but they still do not multitask. Oh sure, we can do more than one thing in the sense we can fold the laundry and listen to a podcast at the same time. But if we are talking about problem-solving, thinking, or learning activities, we can really only do one of those tasks at a time without diminishing results of one or both of the tasks. Additionally, if we interrupt our work it takes somewhere between 15 to 25 minutes to get back to the level of focus and concentration prior to the interruption, if we ever get back. For example, have you ever been in the middle of creating a report and stopped to check email? I’m sure you can agree it took time to find your place and remember where you left off. Or, have you ever had someone interrupt to ask you a ‘quick’ question?

A solid argument can be made to carve out blocks of time for doing work that requires focus and working on only one at a time. If you have an office door, close it. If you have the option of working remotely, schedule your focus work on those days. Block the time on your calendar and mark it busy. If you feel weird about this, consider if getting focus work done is as important as sitting in another meeting talking about the work, or even better, answering questions about when the work will be completed. Try taking two hours to DO the work and see how it goes. Close your email, turn off notifications, silence your phone or put it in airplane mode if possible.

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”

Cal Newport, Author of Deep Work

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If you would like to dig a little deeper and turbo-charge your productivity, check out my 30-day guided journal to take control of your thought life and focus on what matters most. The Journey by Nicole Webb

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