Multitasking—Don’t do it…

Many of us believe that multitasking improves productivity. But many studies have found that multitasking is counterproductive and often dangerous.

Multitasking is the process of doing more than one task at the same time. Using the cellular phone while driving, composing an e-mail while talking to someone on the phone, snacking while watching television, etc. are example of multitasking.

While some machines like computers are capable of multitasking, humans are not cut out for that. Even in the case of machines, you need more power to perform multitasking. We can increase the processing power of machines by upgrading or changing the hardware. But in the case of humans the processing power cannot be increased to enable smooth and efficient multitasking. So, a computer can scan for viruses while you are creating a document or take the backup while playing a movie or song.

While it is possible to multitask, it is not advisable as there are no gains. It is impossible to do two comparably difficult tasks simultaneously. So while we might be able to listen to music while jogging, it is dangerous to have a cellular phone conversation when you are driving.

When you use the cellular phone while driving, you are diverting your attention and concentration from driving to the conversation and that will dull your senses and slow down your reflexes. This can result in accidents. Similarly, while it is possible to compose an e-mail or write an essay while talking on the phone, the person at the other end would be able to sense your lack of attention and can interpret it as lack of interest or importance. This can ruin the relationship.

If you are multitasking while working, the quality of work will suffer. There will be more mistakes and you will overlook many details that would not have happened if you were doing it with your full attention. The consequences can be serious and will often end in rework. So, you will have to spend more time on it and your capability to do quality work be questioned.

Multitasking can create problems in the relationships with your family and friends. If you don’t give your full attention while listening or talking to your spouse, kids, friends, or relatives, they will think that you don’t care much about them. People who do office work while talking to the kids is indirectly sending the message that work is more important to them. This kind of multitasking at home can alienate your family from you. So, try to spend quality time with your family and friends. If you have work, you can tell them and they will understand; but while with them give them your undivided attention and love.

In the book The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, the author Christine Louise Hohlbaum highlights the dangers of multitasking and offers ten tips to stop the habit. These include switching off the cellular phone while you want uninterrupted time, turning off the e-mail alerts, throwing away the gadgets that you don’t actually need, etc. You can get more tips on slowing down and enjoying life from her blog—The Power of Slow.

So, stop multitasking. You can become more successful, productive, and efficient without it.

An excellent two-part article titled Doing Less (and Getting More Done) by Amanda Moshier that explains the pros and cons of multitasking can be found here (Part I) and here (Part II).


  1. Thulasy Mary Elizabeth said,

    July 12, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks,Alexis.Even now multitasking is considered as a capability of the employee in a company.You can multitask when you are young,but it is a process of stress and strain.From my experience during the begining of my career,I actually try to do tasks parellelly.But now with aging,as you said I realized that mental and physical capability are less to multitask.You need more concentration while multitasking.What I felt now is that if you split the tasks and do it one by one you won’t wear out that easily and the results are better.I tottaly agree with you in this line- ‘But in the case of humans the processing power cannot be increased to enable smooth and efficient multitasking.’Thanks again,I think I have to show this post to my better-half.:)

  2. Maya said,

    July 12, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Alexis, thanks for the interesting post. As always it was a very interesting read and very relevant today as everyone is trying to as many things possible. People forget to slow down and enjoy life and by the time they realize the importance of love and companionship, it will be too late.

    I have heard of the book (Power of Slow). Now I have to buy it and read it. Thanks once again.

  3. David said,

    July 12, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    I always thought multitasking was good. But as you said it really affects quality. Last week, I was chatting on the net and talking over the phone and soon the conversations got mixed up and I ended up in a mess. But in our office, I see many people doing multitasking and are proud of their multitasking abilities.

    Is the book Power of Slow good? May be I should order a few copies for my team members and for the company library.

  4. Alexis Leon said,

    July 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Thulasy: Very true. I also was a fan of multitasking till I read a couple of articles about it. The chances of mistakes happening are more when you multitask and I learned it first hand.

    Maya: Thanks Maya for your comments. PoS is a great book with practical ideas and solutions that will help you do more by saving time.

    David: Same here David. Attitudes have to change. The mad rush to finish things is one of the main causes of career burnouts. If people take it slow, they can achieve more and without stress and strain. I strongly recommend you give the book to every member of your team and make them read it.

  5. Dewdrop said,

    July 12, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    This made for an interesting read. I had been always proud of my multi-tasking abilities. But I have noticed that, at times, quality of the work do suffer when I do it. I try to limit the cases when I multi-task these days, but I think I should always keep an eye on the quality from now on.

  6. Jane said,

    July 13, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Thanks for the good write up, Alexis! Sooooooo true especially about driving and talking on the mobile….I so agree with you about multitasking but do you think anybody will pay heed to us when we tell them not to or to slow down??
    In today’s world, times have changed… everybody is in a hurry, in a rush to do things all at one go and in the process end up missing out on the simple things in life and are all the more worked up and completely stressed out.
    Talking about children (since I work amongst them), its a pity today’s children have no time for anything else since they are loaded with home work, projects, tuitions….and they end up trying to do so many things at the same time to keep the deadlines etc but end up with nothing done properly. Do we blame them or on the pressure and load put on them???
    I think whether young or old, everybody wants to do too much in too little time not realizing ”SLOW and STEADY always wins the race” hence end up ”MULTITASKING” 🙂

  7. Bindu said,

    July 14, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Well, to think that multi tasking is looked on as an important attribute for any managerial level position.
    “compose an e-mail or write an essay while talking on the phone” – guilty 🙁

  8. Bindu said,

    July 18, 2010 at 12:47 am

    You are tagged 🙂

  9. Alexis Leon said,

    July 18, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Bindu: Multitasking is still considered a desirable (may be vital) quality is the corporate sector. But it is a productivity and quality killer. It is high time that people realize it and avoid it.

    Will take up the tag soon.

  10. S said,

    July 19, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Wish you the very best today and always.
    Happy Birthday.

  11. Alexis Leon said,

    July 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    S: Thank you.

  12. Dhanya said,

    August 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Hey I wandered here by chance and realized that I have a huge backlog of posts to be read. What happened to your RSS feed? I’m not getting any updates 🙁

  13. Alexis Leon said,

    August 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Dhanya: Thanks Dhanya. The URL to the blog has changed and that is why you are not getting the updates.

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