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Is multitasking real?

focus productivity Oct 17, 2020

In my rest time this week, I picked up one of my favorite books, MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind edited by Jocelyn K. Glei.

I happened to reread the essay about multitasking by Dr. Christian Jarrett. Now you know I always say…

Multitasking is a dirty lie designed to make you start a million things, finish none of them, and end the day feeling like a failure.


In one section Dr. Jarrett talks about people DM-ing or texting or responding to notifications while also trying to do something else. This made me think about any time I’m trying to… I don’t know… write this newsletter while also replying to emails.

Or maybe anytime you’re trying to write your book or balance the budget or teach your kids something while also DM-ing with a friend on Instagram or responding to dings in your inbox.

Dr. Jarrett cites a study:

“Laura Bowman and her team at Central Connecticut State University found that students using IM while reading a textbook took about 25% longer to read the passage (not including the time spent on IM), compared with students who simply read.”

25% longer NOT INCLUDING the time spent on IM

As someone who is always trying to be more efficient with her work time, that is a staggering statistic.

Let’s say that thing you're working on normally takes 4 hours with checking this and that and responding to things. That same task might only take 3 hours without all that checking. What could you do with that extra time?

So really, there’s no such thing as multitasking.

There’s just fast task switching. And every time you switch, part of your brain stays with the thing you just did (and the thing before that and the one before that). Scientists call this attention residue. I call it brain mud.

When I switch tasks too many times throughout the day, I end up tired and trying to think feels like slogging through the mud.

So it seems like our challenge this week should be to reduce the brain mud, right?

Challenge of the Week

Pick one 20-30 minute task to complete every day without any attention switching. Maybe it’s something for your day job or a task at home or something creative, but purposefully pick something you would normally allow yourself to “check things” during.

Then just do the thing for 20 minutes without texts or DM’s or emails…. If you need to, set a timer. If that’s too easy, go for longer.

Our brains can be trained and the more you practice longer periods of focus, the better you’ll get.

You’ve got this!



P.S. If you’re interested in reading Manage Your Day-to-Day, you can find it on this list.

P.P.S. Here’s a link to that study.

P.P.P.S. Yes, you can multitask with highly automated behaviors like walking and talking at the same time, but that's not really what we're talking about here, is it?


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