You have eight tabs open in your computer browser. You’re on hold with your doctor’s office while participating in an ongoing text message exchange with your sister about weekend plans and you’re correcting your students’ latest homework assignment. You are a master multitasker, and it’s what helps you get so much done every day—but are you truly as efficient as you could be?
According to research published in Psychology Today, there is no such thing as true multitasking since it’s not possible to actively complete two simultaneous tasks.1 What we actually do is called task switching, and despite feeling like we’re being productive, any attempt to toggle back and forth between activities decreases efficiency. If you genuinely want to boost your productivity, end your multitasking days and commit to single-tasking behavior instead.
Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work
According Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., author of Make Your Brain Smarter: Increase Your Creativity, Energy and Focus, individuals who want to improve brain performance and focus are better off “eliminating toxic multitasking” and strictly focusing on one activity at a time.2 Data further indicates that multitaskers experience a 40 percent decrease in productivity and take 50 percent longer to accomplish each task.3 They also make 50 percent more errors compared to their single-tasking counterparts.4 In addition, multitasking:
- Slows the completion of individual tasks.
- Increases stress and anxiety.
- Can negatively impact memory related to each task.
- Reduces our ability to be mindful and appreciate each moment and singular task.
- Can deplete creativity.
Why Single-Tasking Does Work
Instead of trying to do too much simultaneously and not doing anything well or thoroughly, you may want to switch to a single-tasking mindset. How? Limit distractions and place all your creative brain power into every single task that you perform. While single-tasking, you can expect to benefit from:
- Improved energy since multitasking diverts your attention and drains brain power.
- A reduced likelihood of being derailed by distractions.
- Improved attention span.
- Improved productivity by 40 percent.
- Better mood and a more positive outlook.
Three Ways to Start Single-Tasking
If you want to be an efficient single-tasker, but you worry that not having multiple conversations, tasks, and projects started at the same time will leave you feeling incomplete, follow these three simple steps to get started:
- Prioritize your to-do list. Each morning, ask yourself what you need to get done that day. Then, create a list that prioritizes each item based on deadlines and importance. Include both work and personal responsibilities to ensure you are taking a comprehensive look at your day.
- Start with your first task, and move on only once it’s complete. This practice can be challenging if your most important responsibility is one you’d rather procrastinate completing or one that is time-consuming—like grading student essays. Take healthy breaks when you need to, and move on to the next task after you’ve completed the first.
- Start smaller. You realistically will only get to tackle three or four important tasks in a day, so write down the top three to five things that you would like to accomplish that day.
If you’re still not convinced that single-tasking will allow you to be just as successful a teacher, spouse, parent, or friend as you are today, try it out for one week. We’re confident that you’ll be convinced of the wide-ranging benefits of focusing your time and attention on one task at a time, and will cross “increase productivity” off your to-do list in no time.
1. Taylor, Jim. “Technology: Myth of Multitasking.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 30 Mar. 2011, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201103/technology-myth-multitasking.
2. Chapman, Sandra Bond. “Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 8 May 2013, www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/05/08/why-single-tasking-makes-you-smarter/#12cb65a25063.
4. Van Den Barselaar, Lyndy. “What Are the Negative Effects of Multitasking in the Workplace?” HR Future, 9 Jan. 2019, www.hrfuture.net/talent-management/culture/what-are-the-negative-effects-of-multitasking-in-the-workplace/.