Why Not to Multitask

--Photo by fragmented

As you're reading this now, you're probably doing so while multitasking. There's a good chance you've got some music playing, a couple other tabs open in your browser, and maybe you've got a bite and a beverage in hand. If worse, you have your iphone next to your mouse flashing you tweets and ringing bells as the texts flow in. You've got the TV running commercials in the back, a friend talking to you from across the room, all while you're petting your pet, having a smoke, doodling, checking sticky notes and looking for another 'important' tab to open despite being aware of its purely procrastinatory purpose.

Or maybe, maybe, you really are just reading this post.

If you are, you have my admiration (and thanks too, of course), because as a recovering multitaskoholic, this business of doing one thing at a time is like remembering how to be genuinely entertained by bugs and slimy things (how did we ever do that?). Back in those days when climbing a tree was fun, or sleeping in a tent, or staring at a cat. Yes, sure, those things can still be fun- but only if my phone has full bars and there's a local wi-fi connection.

We imagine ourselves to be better informed, more effective and productive when we're multitasking. But the hype is that multitasking is a myth. That we can't really multitask. Or that we can but it ends up being less efficient. There's all kinds of 'scientific' research about it- just google 'multitasking' and half the hits are about how ineffective it is. 

The fact of the matter is, there's a definite benefit to focusing on one task and getting it done. Think about the times when you really are focused at one task. It just feels better. You think deeper, have better ideas, and are probably more creative.

So I've been making an active effort to reduce my 'multitasking', or perhaps more accurately, my habit of continuous partial attention. It's pain-staking and withdrawal-gnawing at first, but what I'm finding is that there really are genuine benefits. For example: 

1. I'm enjoying music again. Instead of listening to music as BGM to another task, just listening to music- and really doing nothing else- has been a pleasant reminder to why I liked it in the first place (it's also been a great way to rediscover -and delete- some of the awful stuff that's piled up in my music library).

2. Reading is fun. Reading without the distractions of music, laptops and phones, makes the book a heck of a lot more interesting. I remember more of what I read, and I'm also realizing just how much I've been casually skimming through in the past.

3. I'm getting work done quicker. Making sticks is a part of my peculiar job description. I'm still no good at it, but I'm banging out a whole lot more when my phone/ipod are out of sight. 

4. There are fewer conversations that drag. This one obviously depends on the company (as we aren't all bouncy conversationalists, for better or worse), but the one commonality of any stimulating conversation, is that participants don't have their touch-screens out. 

5. I bump into interesting things and people more often. This has probably been the biggest plus. I get to travel a bit on the job, and when I'm offline and disconnected (phone-wise), I just notice things more. I take better photos. Scenery I've taken for granted, scenery that's changed, new shops, old shops, shops that are gone. Likewise with people. Gadgets gone, and the strangers in the room start talking. And all the extra noticing of things that happens, often and surprisingly ends up being great conversation starters with those strangers. 

That's my take on it. I don't expect myself to be 100% monotask-able (I will sadly admit I've opened three new tabs since the start of writing this post). But I can say with confidence that at the very least making a conscious effort to cut down has its perks. 


  1. this is a very interesting post and you are absolutely right.
    I'm reading your post while listening at the radio ;-)) it helps me to cut from the noise outside

  2. ...and i'm writing this comment with six tabs open. But, really, just disconnecting from all the gadgets and distractions, and just doing one thing at a time has benefits in ways I hadn't realized (or had forgotten about).