Multitasking: fact or fiction?


I’ve noticed something recently.

People are always doing something. More often than not, it’s two things at once. Or three. Or four. It’s overwhelming to even think about trying to do so much at one time. It seems productive to perform three tasks in the same amount of time it takes to perform one; but in actuality, it’s not. It’s unproductive. It’s debilitating.

People often think they are benefiting themselves by “multitasking,” or doing more than one thing at once, but they’re not. It’s actually impossible to multitask. It’s about as impossible as breathing in oxygen underwater.

I think I’m multitasking by eating dinner, doing my homework, and Snapchatting my friends; but the reality is, I’m not. It’s a delusion, really. According to the article Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again by Jon Hamilton, we’re not doing things simultaneously, we’re just switching our attention from one thing to another really quickly. For example, writing an email and talking on the phone at the same time seems like multitasking, but it’s not and your brain actually makes it impossible to do those two things at once.

The human brain simply cannot perform two tasks at once that require high-level brain functions. It just can’t. According to Can People Really Multitask? by Chris Adams, the cerebral cortex- which handles the executive controls of the brain- switches between the goal-shifting stage and rule-activation stage in a few tenths of a second.

The goal-shifting stage is when we switch our focus from one thing to another, and the rule activation stage “turns off” how the brain performed a previous task and “turns on” the rules for the new task. This happens so quickly that we think we’re methodically multitasking, but we’re just really quickly shifting our attention from one thing to the next.

Multiples studies and proven facts show that multitasking is a myth; we’re all under the spell of delusion. We think we’re accomplishing more by doing multiple things at once, but it’s actually less efficient and disastrous.

Picture this: you’re holding your phone with one hand and brushing your teeth with the other. You get distracted by Twitter and end up getting toothpaste all over your hand because your attention was on your phone and not on the toothbrush. You have to clean the toothpaste off of your phone and brush your teeth again, adding an extra five minutes to a simple, two-minute task. This real-life example is the reality of so many people’s lives- a simple task, like eating or brushing your teeth, takes so much longer than it should because we’re trying to do two things at once. Eating is a mundane, daily routine, and something that shouldn’t take much thought or effort; however, it’s often complicated by trying to do so many other things at once.

The facts are there. Studies have proven it. Multitasking is a myth, so why overwork yourself? Why do two things at once mediocrely when you could excel in just the one thing? Don’t scroll through the same Instagram feed that you’ve already seen twenty times in a day while eating. It’s not necessary. Appreciate every bite of your meal, talk to your family sitting at the same table as you, and think about one thing and only one thing only: chewing and swallowing.

Trying to do more than one thing at once has proven to be inefficient and impossible, so why waste your time? Just focus on one task at a time, and you’ll find yourself less overwhelmed and more efficient.