Multi-tasking is passé, ineffective and can do you more harm than good

Multi-tasking is passé, ineffective and can do you more harm than good

Saturday July 30, 2016,

4 min Read

I used to pride myself on being a multi-tasker; I almost wore it like badge of honour that I belonged to the army of women who can do everything at the same time. As an example I could have clothes in the washing machine, make porridge for my child and dream of world dominance, pay an online bill and get on a con call, edit the business proposal and find the time somehow to chide my maid (this one still amazes me) all at the same time.

I’m certain that there are smiles on faces of women as they read this and there is a silent sense of achievement. In my twenties this seemed to work, I somehow had it all together.


Image : shutterstock

Too many balls in the air-

But as I grew in my career and age, I wish somehow that it was inversely true; I found that I was floundering. I fought harder and it became worse. I attributed this to too much on my plate, stress at work, inefficient staff, absent maid and even to my hormones.

It took me a few incidents like pouring dishwater into the washing machine, throwing away the spoon along with crumbs, transferring money online to a book vendor for a book that inadvertently took care of his profits for a year, and the final clincher came in the way of a message that was about my boss that reached her. I had to sit down to think clearly in intervals between periods of confusion and insanity. In one lucid moment here is what I learnt: multi-tasking is transactional, it's sequential tasking that is the key.

As a career woman who moved past multi-tasking and has learnt the art of sequential tasking I would like to share data on why this is true.

One thing at a time-

“[Multitasking] not only lowers productivity by 40 percent but it also shrinks our brains. When you overload your brain trying to get it to task switch, you shrink the grey matter in your brain.

Single-tasking is working with our brains the way they were created. It means keeping your brain and body in the same place and focused on one thing at a time.

You can get more done in the course of the day if at any given moment you’re fully and intensely immersed in the task at hand.”

The solution to multitasking is, unsurprisingly, single-tasking. You focus 100 percent of your attention on a single cognitive task and pour your energy into it from start to finish. Instead of splitting up your limited mental resources, you concentrate on one thing at a time.

Leadership positions are strategic and less executive in nature, and there is research data to show that multi-tasking may be actually be perceived as a deterrent and is seen as more of an ability to transact less as thinkers. Research also shows that multi-tasking means a spread of our attention and key tasks that need decisions that are impactful and need complete attention.

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will,” said William James, the great psychologist, who wrote at length about the varieties of human attention. The Principles of Psychology (1890) believed that the transition from youthful distraction to mature attention was in large part the result of personal mastery and discipline — and so was illustrative of character.

This is one data point I did not lose track of as I worked my way up the career graph.

People who have achieved great things often credit for their success a finely honed skill for paying attention. When asked about his particular genius, Isaac Newton responded that if he had made any discoveries, it “owed more to patient attention than to any other talent.”

And, interestingly, compared to our closest relatives, the apes, we are all terrible at multitasking men and women alike.

If evolution is indeed progressive, sequential tasking could well be the advantage women should take, and new world order could soon be in place!


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)