The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking or divided attention is for computers not people. There is a mountain of evidence that says human beings can only do one thing at a time and do it well. I’m on the hunt for a job and just about every job description I read requires the skill multitasking. I’ve discovered that it’s possible for us to check email while attending a staff meeting, but you’ll write crappy emails and miss much of what’s said in the meeting and good luck coming up with intelligent sounding answers if called upon. My life lessons are backed up by psychology and neuroscience. 

We know from studies done in psychology and neuroscience that the human brain is great at processing things one at a time, in fact it’s better at serial processing than anything else on the planet. We all have a time of day where our brains are at there best, for many of us it’s in the morning and if you start your day by reading and answering all your email, you may have just use your most productive brain time on email. That time would be better spent on prioritizing your day. You can accomplish many things in the same day by creating a schedule and parting out your time and attention, starting with the things that are most important and require the most brain power first and prioritizing from there.

Neuroscience also tells us that every time we take a decision, our processing power decreases a bit. Constant texting or emailing can reduce your IQ by an average of 10 points according to David Rock in his book, ‘Your Brain At Work.’ The last thing a busy executive needs is a 10 point decrease in IQ. 

I just did a search in the jobs section on www.craigslist.org for multitask and it returned more than 1000 results. Surely all of these employers are not asking us to do work that’s destined to be flawed, make us feel bad about ourselves and decrease our job satisfaction right? Maybe we need a new buzzword to replace multitask?  

 So, HR and hiring managers, please stop using the word multitasking as a job requirement. You could say something like, “must be able to keep many balls in the air” or “must be able to make progress on several tasks in a day.” When you ask for multitasking what your really asking for is for employees to do a crappy job on several things at the same time and then feel inadequate.  I know that’s not what you want. Just say no to multitasking!