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How the Myth of Multitasking Destroys Productivity

Years ago, computers gave us the idea that multitasking was possible. In truth what was happening is that these machines were alternating so quickly between activities that to the uninformed, it looked like they were doing more than one thing simultaneously.


I do multitask, don’t I?

Somewhere along the line, human beings got the idea that they, too, could multitask. In fact, it may have been the feeling that they already were doing so that made them conclude that this was the case: Answering telephones while typing email and speaking to colleagues and scribbling notes all while reviewing other papers would be enough to persuade you that you were multitasking.

The problem, of course, is that if you think that you’re doing something already, then that can lead you to believe that you can do it, whether it’s true or not. Imagine the child whose feet are touching the floor of a swimming pool, and who says, “Look Mummy; I’m swimming” simply because he / she is flailing his / her arms.

The fact is that we can give our attention to only one thing at a time. The time might be short, but it’s still only one thing. This is why texting is so dangerous while driving. Even typing one letter at a time, while alternatively looking at the road, can cause an accident; and most people who text aren’t thinking about what’s going on when they look up at their surroundings. Instead, they’re thinking about what they’re going to say in their message.


Productivity requires concentration.

You may do two things automatically, like drive and talk, or walk and chew gum, but you cannot focus on more than one thing. Think of the number of people, for example, that have nearly run into you while walking down the street because they were glued to their smartphones and weren’t watching where they were going. It happens all the time, and it’s getting worse.

It’s a contradiction in terms to suppose that you can devote your full attention to more than one thing. You either are or you’re not.

We’re hammering the point because if you’re not, then you’re allowing yourself to be distracted by something else, and that means that you’re being unproductive. The fastest way to become productive is to focus on only one thing at a time; by giving it all of your attention and energy.


Rapid alternating between tasks kills productivity

You’ll also accomplish more if you avoid alternating between activities than if you stick with that one thing. You see, you simply can’t switch on concentration like a light bulb. It takes twenty minutes or so of focus to become captivated enough by what you’re doing – to get it fully into your system – to actually become productive in it. And so if you’re being interrupted by others or interrupting yourself, then you may never accomplish anything. It’s why you have days where at the end you feel as though nothing was achieved. It’s because in the grand scheme of things, nothing was. All you did was take a whistle-stop tour of several projects,

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