Sharon C. Cooper

Just thinking…

Multi-tasking is a Myth, Or So I’ve Been Told

For years I’ve prided myself on being able to get a lot done in minimum time. I even took on the Army’s old recruiting slogan – “we do more things before 8 a.m. than most people do all day.” That was me, getting an early start to my day to see how much I could get done before 8 a.m. I’ve always considered myself the ultimate multi-tasker, but now I’m wondering if my version of multi-tasking has really been as productive as I’ve thought. 

I’ve often heard people say – multi-tasking is a myth. In my mind, I wondered how that was possible since I typically take care of several tasks at the same time. If having a load of clothes washing, and a pot of brown rice cooking on the stove while I work on one of my writing assignments is not multi-tasking, then what is? I decided to do some research.

According to neuroscientist, Earl Miller, humans can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, but they can “shift their focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.” We may think we’re paying attention to everything we have going on around us, but we’re not. He says that often times, “similar tasks compete to use the same part of the brain.” One example I liked: typing an email while talking on the telephone.  This is almost impossible to do effectively – I’ve tried it. “They both involve communicating via speech or the written word, and so there’s a lot of conflict between the two of them.”

It turns out, most of the tasks I do simultaneously are considered “background tasking” according to business coach, Dave Crenshaw. This is when you’re “doing two or more tasks, with only one of them requiring mental effort” like my example above. It’s suggested that instead of trying to do several things at once, give your complete focus to one task at a time.  That’s a nice idea…but will I be able to accomplish as much? Hmm…I’m not sure.

Surepayroll did a study and found that “despite the widespread acceptance of multi-tasking, one in four small business owners report that multi-tasking in some way hinders their working ability. Multi-tasking skeptics cited everything from decreased quality in work, tasks taking longer than in the past and becoming burned out more quickly.”

Now I’m curious. I’m thinking about trying to limit my version of multi-tasking and see how many tasks I can scratch off my daily to-do-list. I have no doubt that this will be super hard for me, especially since I’ve mirrored the Army’s old slogan regarding all I can get done before 8 a.m., for well over 20 years. I also can’t imagine it being as much fun, but we’ll see.

What are your thoughts on multi-tasking?


December 7, 2011 - Posted by | Business, Just Thinking, Multi-tasking |


  1. Goodness, without multi-tasking, I’d need more hours in the day! I understand not being able to talk and type at the same time, but there are definitely tasks that can be done simultaneously to save time.

    Comment by Delaney Diamond | December 7, 2011

    • I know right! I tried the one task at a time today…and I’m not feeling it! 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by Delaney!

      Comment by sharonccooper | December 7, 2011

  2. I too have read many articles on the topic recently and I have shifted my thinking. My new slogan is “I don’t do multi-tasking!” I have found the shift to be quite rewarding. My time is spent doing one task to my very best, with efficiency. My focus is on the one task and I am driven to do it well and in a timely manner.

    For example, I have a dear friend who is in crisis. She calls me every few days to talk. There were days that I would do laundry or start a meal while listening. Then one day I gave up multi-tasking and found that my listening to her became interactive. We now TALK WITH each other. We talk about scripture or her crisis or how it affects family and friends. There is now a depth to our relationship that wasn’t there before.

    Another example would be at work. I have found that if I touch something just once and take care of the action needed I can move on to another task quickly. My mind is free because I don’t need to go back to it, I am not distracted while multi-tasking and I have less room for error. As a result my To Do List gets shorter and shorter.

    Comment by Traci Merrill | December 7, 2011

    • Hey Traci! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. After yesterday of trying to do one task at a time I had thought about going back to my old ways (smile). But I will definitely try to be more conscientious about not working on a task while I’m conversating w/ someone. Again, thanks for sharing!

      Comment by sharonccooper | December 8, 2011

  3. Hmmm… I think I would have to say that my attention span is too short to not multi-task. Many of my projects in the kitchen require a certain amount of waiting. If I waited for each piece to finish before starting the next it would take me days to finish everything! I do agree with Traci though. When I am dealing with people, whether on the phone or in person, I am terrible at multi-tasking! 🙂

    Comment by Diolinda | December 11, 2011

    • Hey Dio! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I would think that making so many different types of chocolates would definitely take some multi-tasking. I’d have to agree w/ you all regarding handling the task of communicating with people – doing multiple things during that time is not a good idea. 🙂

      Comment by sharonccooper | December 12, 2011

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