Monday, July 29, 2013

Is Multitasking a Myth?

How do you define multitasking?

As a mom, I've been multitasking for years, like doing a load of laundry while making dinner, or folding clothes when talking on the phone. That variety of multitasking, I think, is good.

One thing I've learned over the years, though, is when it comes to writing and office work, multitasking is not a great idea. I've tried sending an email while talking on the phone, for example, and couldn't focus on either. I shortchanged one or both parties in the process.

It sounds good in theory. Multitasking gets more accomplished in a day. Or does it?  I've heard it said that multitasking means doing many things but none of them well. What do you think? 

I wonder if the multitasking mentality, in part anyway, comes from a society driven to "do". We must accomplish something all the time, it seems, and multitasking acts as a means to that end.

In this Harvard Business Review Blog Network article, How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking, Peter Bregman shares his observations. He says we are 40% less productive when multitasking, and noticed his productivity increase significantly in his week long experiment not to multitask. 

Do you think multitasking is a good way to get things done? What kind do you do?

Have a great week!

Happy writing,

P.S. I was interviewed recently by Grace Conyers at Insanitek. The topic is home education, so if you or anyone you know is homeschooling, I invite you to check it out.  For the record, Grace coined the "guru" title in her kind intro. Had to smile, never thought of myself as one! :)

Photo image: Stock Exchange


  1. An excellent post. All my life I have been multitasking, another word for running around in circles, doing too much, and wearing yourself out. Now in old age, I know what a stupid thing it was and that I should have delegated, so many 'should haves', but thankfully it's never too late to learn. :0)

  2. Multitasking is overrated. I was better at it when my kids were little---I think mothers have to be, and maybe God gives us the extra focus to be able to accomplish that. But with everything else, my divided time means sub-par work. I learned that the hard way when I tried to balance my checkbook and talk on the phone to my daughter at the same time. The results weren't pretty. LOL

  3. Carole Ann,
    I hear you! But you're right, it's never to late to learn. :) I think too like you said, we stress ourselves out over it way too much.

    Moms do need to multitask - it's the nature of the job, I'm thinking, :) Funny how when the kids get older you get out of practice with some aspects of it.

    Happy writing,

  4. I tend to multi-task more at work. I can do my work, blog, and watch a movie at the same time. The movie watching is what suffers, as I'm mostly listening.
    I think you're a guru!

  5. Like you, Karen, I can certainly multi-task around the house: laundry, cleaning, cooking. But there are many areas I can't. I sent a text while chatting with my mother the other day and ended up sending the message to the wrong person, and missing half of what my mother said.
    When it comes to writing - I used to juggle short pieces well. I would work on three or four at a time. I don't seem to have the same ability switching between novel projects though.
    Bregman's article sounds interesting. I'm going to check it out. Thanks!

  6. Like you, Karen, and some of the others, I am able to multi-task at home with cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. However, at work I find that it doesn't pay to try it, In my office job, there are enough interruptions without trying to do too many things at one time.

  7. I'm really good at multitasking. Not that means I'm effective at it, I just do it a lot!

  8. Karen, I too do a lot of multi-tasking, maybe not effectively, but its become a bad habit now.

  9. Now have my books on sale, minimal postage to USA.on my website,, hope you do share with your Grandson, would be wonderful to see his reactions. Take care, Carole.

  10. I've made huge errors multitasking. I think because I, too, was good at doing all kinds of things around the house I thought I could do all kinds of things at the office or while I was online. Not so. Now I'm really working on focusing and doing one thing at a time.

  11. Hi Karen .. there are certainly some things I can do together easily, but definitely some things I need to switch off and concentrate .. and know I can't do other things ..

    Cheers Hilary

  12. Alex,
    Aww, thank you! I must admit, I think of you as a blogging guru!

    I know; I've done things like send an email while talking on the phone and then forgetting to add an attachment. I'm best at one thing at a time in that department! )

    I know it! Same here. And some days I just want to put a sign on the door of my office that says, "Interruption Central". lol :)

    Oh me too. And I think I will always still try to do multiple things at once in some areas, well, and household stuff too. :)

    I can't say that it's bad all the time, but I know it isn't good for my writing! :) So maybe some of what you do is okay! You are a mom after all.

    Good to know! Thank you! :)

    Oh me too, with mixed results! Thanks for stopping by! Enjoyed the interview over at your blog. :)

    I love your new profile pic! I'm thinking we could all use practice at focusing on one thing sometimes, you know? :)

    Happy writing,

  13. I do not multitask well at all. Cooking while talking on phone? I mess up the recipe. Read and watch tv? I invariably miss something. Texting if someone's talking to me? Nope. Like you say, multitasking means doing many things but none of them well. For me that's pretty much true... :-) but how do we get out of the habit?

  14. Very interesting post. I used to be much better at multitasking than I am now, which is most likely a product of aging and slowing down.

  15. I'm multi-tasking right now! He's right though, I get more done when I can focus on one thing.

  16. You ARE a guru. Pin that one on and wear it proud, my friend. :D

    I'm a lot like you, I think, in your description of both kinds of multitasking. Again, balance seems to be the key as in nearly everything else, something I'm constantly trying to find.


  17. Hi Karen...Oh, good heavens, I've multi-tasked all my life. Have to working, homemaking, child care taking, and on and on.

    But like you, I don't multi-task when it comes to writing. That requires concentration and focus. Susan

  18. I wonder if I could stop multitasking? We women/moms are so used to it that we don't even realise that we are multitasking.


  19. Kenda,
    I had to laugh, for I have messed up recipes while talking on the phone too! I often lose count of how many cups of flour I just scooped and things like that. :) Live and learn, right?

    You know, I too, feel a little out of practice with some things and am reminded of that when my grandson comes for a visit. I used to juggle three little ones at once, once upon a time! :)

    LOL - well, sometimes I need to ask when am I NOT multitasking! It can be such a habit, you know? :)

    And you are a sweetheart! :D I think you are right; a balance and good judgement help.

    I think it is a necessity in certain areas of our lives, especially as a parent! :) Otherwise, I'm thinking the laundry would never get done!

    Ha - yes, I know it! I was thinking about the things I was doing this afternoon - yup, multitasking! :) Maybe slowing down could help us?


  20. Well, I did a lot of multitasking work at home and in other places. And as mentioned, the multitasking also depends on the situations and the circumstances. When it comes to household chores, multitasking is a quicker way to finish off fast and rest :)

  21. Great post, Karen.

    I call this "doubling up," and have found it only works when one of the tasks is mindless, like housework. If it's a phone conversation or email, I can't do anything that requires brain power for the second task, or like you said, someone gets shortchanged.

    You are so right--we are a society that places too much focus on doing, rather than loving or being. So sad.

  22. I do multi-task--can't help it but not with office things like you said. If I'm on the phone, I might pick up the house etc but can't write emails or anything really important. I try to give my full attention.

  23. Yeesi,
    It is amazing how much we can have going on at once, isn't it? I think it reflects our society and lifestyle, you know? :)

    Thank you! Yes, mindless tasks, there are many, aren't there? :) I agree, sometimes we just need to "be".

    I've been doing a lot of thinking since I posted this. It makes you think about priorities, that's for sure! :)

    Happy writing,

  24. I do think multitasking is a good way of getting things done but not necessarily the BEST way. It can be efficient when it's needed though.

  25. multi tasking is totally possible, but we have to be careful that we dont spread ourselves too thin :)

  26. Keith,
    Yeah, you have a point, and it seems this is the general consensus. It's a trade off I think sometimes.

    Yes, possible and profitable are two different things, aren't they? lol Balance for the individual, I suspect, is key. :)

    Happy weekend,

  27. Hi, Karen:

    I think multitasking is possible when at least one of the tasks is "mechanical" in nature and doesn't require mental focus, like washing the dishes while talking on the phone. As a mom, if I did not multitask, meals would not be cooked, laundry would not be done, my kids would not be homeschooled during the summer months, etc.

    However, when dealing with tasks that require focus and analysis, the saying rings true: "One thing at a time, with both hands."

    So, yes, multitasking is possible but only for certain tasks. Overall, I think the more we slow down and focus, the more productive we are.

    I'll head over and read your interview in a few. :-)

  28. I agree with you and everyone else. Multitasking has its place, but not if it means someone's being shortchanged. Great reminder, Karen, for me to focus on one person or important thing at a time. Like trying to do the budget and watch Marilyn Dennis at the same time. Not good.

  29. Janette,
    I believe you are right. You might say there is more than one level of multitasking - one that is doable and productive, another that is not. :)

    Aha, so you were budgeting and watching! LOL, I've done that too and end up only focusing on one thing. :)

    Happy weekend,


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!