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The Allure of Multitasking


We have all engaged in multitasking. After all, we live in a fast-paced world where the competing demands for our attention outstrip the time available. For me, the mental image that leaps to mind is participating in a conference call while checking and responding to e-mail – or participating in a phone conversation while continuing to work on the document that’s open on my computer.


The heart of this subject is whether multitasking is an effective time management tool or whether it is a frustrating waste of time.


The reality is that our brain cannot be two places at once – i.e. it is incapable of processing separate streams of information from attention-demanding tasks. So, multitasking is either fragmented attention (not being fully present) or task-switching (moving rapidly among tasks).   In my example, I am either processing the information from the phone call or from the computer – but not both equally.


The allure of multi-tasking is strongest when:

  • We are responding to the demands or expectations of others; or
  • New stimuli is more attractive than the task at hand (social media, as an example)


Studies have shown that the opposite of multitasking – i.e. concentrated focus – is much more effective with getting things done. Absorption in a task where energy and concentration is focused results in superior outcomes.


Multitasking is stress inducing. The brain is overwhelmed by competing stimuli and releases cortisol, the “stress homone” which decreases the ability to process information. On the other hand, singletasking generates positivity and well-being.   Developing the willpower to concentrate on one task at a time leads to contentment and fulfillment.


To learn more about how to more effectively manage the competing demands of modern life and accomplish better results one task at a time, read the book Singletasking by Devora Zack. It is short, engaging and backed by hard science that debunks the popular myth of multitasking.


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