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Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work

I’ve thought a lot about multitasking. I’m the kind of person that loves to read while I’m cooking or cleaning — or doing almost anything. However, I’ve noticed that when I multitask in this way, I’m not as effective. It takes almost twice as long to do the dishes when I’m reading, and it’s common for me to end up with burned food if I don’t focus on what I’m working on at the stove.

Multitasking is also something I’ve tried to do while working in the past. I’ll try to answer email or pay my bills while on a conference call, only to discover that I’ve missed something crucial in the conversation. You feel like you’re being more productive, but in reality you’re struggling to complete much of anything.

The reason that I find it difficult to accomplish much when I’m doing two things at once is fairly simple: multitasking doesn’t work.

Multitasking Doesn’t Work: Losing 40% of Your Productivity

According to research, multitasking doesn’t work. Instead, when you try to do more than one thing at a time, your brain is actually engaged in “task switching.” Rather than handling everything at once, your brain is actually trying to switch its focus. Here is what a Psychology Today article points out about what is actually going on in your brain when you attempt to multitask:

Task switching involves several parts of your brain: Brain scans during task switching show activity in four major areas: the pre-frontal cortex is involved in shifting and focusing your attention, and selecting which task to do when. The posterior parietal lobe activates rules for each task you switch to, the anterior cingulate gyrus monitors errors, and the pre-motor cortex is preparing for you to move in some way.

According to the article, you can lose up to 40% of your productivity due to multitasking because your brain isn’t actually engaged in more than one thing at a time. It’s actually constantly trying to figure out what to do next, and your attention is refocusing at a rapid rate.

Losing 40% of your productivity doesn’t sound like a good way to stay ahead in your business. While you might feel like multitasking is the way to go, don’t let it seduce you. And if you’re engaged in it, consider moving to singletasking.

Focus on One Thing at a Time

Switching your approach so that you are only focusing on one thing at a time can be a great way to boost your productivity. I use the Pomodoro technique to help me stay focused on one task at a time while I’m working. While it seems counter-intuitive that completing one task before moving on to the next — rather than working on multiple tasks at the same time — is more productive, the reality is that it works well.

Consider: If you can give all of your attention to getting one thing done, won’t it be finished faster (and probably constitute higher-quality work)? This has helped me with my own business. I get more done in a shorter period of time now that I realize multitasking doesn’t work, and I’ve switched to single-tasking. My dinners also taste better. Instead of reading, I play music. It’s something in the background that I enjoy, but it doesn’t interfere with my ability to concentrate on making a healthy, non-burnt dinner.

Don’t get caught up in the idea that you have to do multiple things at once. Instead, switch to single-tasking and truly get more done.

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I’m Miranda and I’m a freelance financial journalist and money expert. My specialties are investing, small business/entrepreneurship and personal finance. The journey to business success and financial freedom is best undertaken with fellow travelers.

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