84: Double-tasking slows you down

When people are overwhelmed with work some resort to double-tasking.

Double-tasking, known by many as multitasking, is not a modern phenomenon. People who drive and listen to the radio at the same time have been double-tasking for years. However, as people have become expected to do more and more at work the phenomenon has extended in recent years into work life and for many people home life as well. There is also an urban myth that while men cannot multitask all women excel at it.

Multitasking has been described as a ‘mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.’

Research has shown that it is difficult and probably impossible, to learn new information while engaging in multitasking.

Studies on how multitasking affects academic success found that students who engaged in high levels of multitasking reported significant issues with their academic work. Those who multitasked (by checking the news while writing an essay, or checking emails while watching TV, for instance) were proven to have a worse attention span, memory, and ability to switch between tasks. Using Facebook and text messaging while studying was negatively related to student grades.

Even more worrying is the fact that a study from the University of London found that multitasking can actually lower IQ.

Research from the University of Utah found that only 2 percent of people can actually multitask effectively. The other 98 percent of us are ‘monotaskers’ who would be far better off sticking to one thing at a time.

When we think we’re multitasking – i.e., doing two things at once – what we’re actually doing is rapidly switching between the two tasks (and likely doing neither well).

It is clear from research on how brains work that a person can only be effective at one task at a time. Working on more than one task at a time blocks access to subconscious capabilities that could bring out full potential. Multitasking blocks access to information flowing from the environment and from your memory and your creative subconscious. When these channels are blocked, mistakes follow and you will be less effective at the tasks you are trying to complete.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that doing more than one thing at once would mean you could get through your to-do list faster. But in reality, the opposite is true. Try these to help you stop double tasking:

  1. Stop double-tasking. You will not be at your best on either task, you will make mistakes, neither task will be completed properly and it will cost you more time in the end. Realise this.


  1. Don’t take a phone or a laptop to meetings. Print out things you might need during a meeting and then recycle them afterward. Be self-aware and if you catch yourself double-tasking decide which task is the most important and do that one.


  1. When you feel the need to double task take a pause. Take a look at your schedule, find a gap, and allocate that time for the task you dropped.


  1. Eliminate distractions as much as possible, and focus on one task at a time. You’ll be more productive and less stressed. Switch off incoming notifications on your laptop and put your phone out of reach when you are working.


  1. Try the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes, focus fully on the task at hand for that time, and then take a five-minute break. Work through this cycle four times (each set is one ‘Pomodoro’) then take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. Repeat.


Handle one task at a time, focus on it, give it your all, and do it to the best of your ability. Once you are finished start on the next one. Don’t kid yourself otherwise.

Most things are not as difficult as they seem—if you focus each day.

However, giving one topic your full attention for an extended period of time is even harder than it seems.

Over a long timeline, the bottleneck is usually attention and not ability.