Why Multitasking is a Waste of Time

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You often hear people extolling the virtues of multitasking: you get more done, It’s the way of the future.

Multitasking is great if you want to fill your time doing a lots of things not very well, over a long period of time. Sure you can: flicking between checking your email, Twittering, writing a report, trying a new web app and chatting on Facebook. Are you busy? Probably. Are you productive? Probably not.

As I see it, there are two key problems here:

  1. Doing non essential tasks
    Due to procrastination and self-distraction you are putting off certain tasks, by doing everything else but, the task you are supposed to be doing.
  2. Task switching
    The other often overlooked issue is that of task switching — moving between one task and another. This is the issue I want to draw your attention to in this post.

Task switching

Your conscious mind effectively works like a single thread processor. We do things best in a linear fashion. One thing followed by another. Multitasking is like trying to make yourself a multithread processor. Unfortunately, evolution hasn’t caught up yet, so you are stuck with your good old fashioned single thread brain. Sure you can sort of do multitasking, but it’s a bit of a hack and doesn’t really work.

The problem with multitasking is you keep changing backwards and forwards from one thing to another. This means you need to switch your thoughts from one task to another repeatedly, and then repeatedly having to recall all the pertinent information about each task, before you actually do the task itself. This all takes time.
When you multitask you are effectively (to put it in computer terms), opening a file, doing something with it, closing it, opening another file, doing something with it, closing it and opening the previous one again, doing something with it, closing it again etc, etc. This is obviously inefficient. Infact depending on how often you switch between tasks. You can waste 40% plus of your productive time just in task switching!

Could do better

There is also one more good reason not to do it: quality. It has been proven that, trying to do more than one thing at a time generally leads to a poorer performance of each task, compared with doing each task separately.

Of course, having said all that; it is not always possible to work on things in a linear manner, but generally, if you want to get more things done and to a higher standard: stop multitasking. TTFN.

Toby SomervilleToby Somerville
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