The Myth of Multi-tasking

by | 19 Jun 2023 | HR, Mental Health, Wellbeing

We might think we are being efficient when trying to juggle multiple things at once, however, science shows our brain cannot effectively multitask and overall efficiency drops.


Can we multi-task?

At some level we can do more than one thing if very different actions requiring different input, perhaps having a conversation whilst making a drink, but trying to make a have a proper conversation whilst reading something is not actually possible.  It is likely you will have to ask someone to repeat what they say or re-read the text. Although if reconsider the first scenario our focus moves between the conversation and the drink making, we are never fully focused on both.

Not only do we not fully focus on either task but an additional downside of multitasking is we create micro stresses for ourself, adding to our overall stress level with the negative impact this has on our wellbeing

There is evidence to support the general belief about gender differences, with women being better able to switch between tasks more effectively than men, although this does depend on the types of tasks and whether they were sequential or simultaneous.  However, both are equally bad at multitasking because our brain is not wired to be able to consciously focus on more than one thing.

Many of us, in the busyness of the world today, are trying to juggle multiple demands and our to-do list feels overwhelming, so we try to get things done simultaneously or start multiple tasks and get side-tracked. 

What can we do differently?

To do things well, or just get them done if we consider mundane day to day tasks, we need to be focused and resourced.  Obviously, the type of task requires different levels but the principle of being in a resourceful state applies regardless, whether it is the energy to face doing the washing up at the end of the day, or our brain feeling alert to write a complex report for work

Developing a more effective approach to getting things done will not only positively affect our productivity but will have a significant impact on our wellbeing.  Creating a calmer environment with fewer micro-stresses will put us in a more resourceful state so we ultimately get things done without feeling so drained.


Tips to increase effectiveness and stop trying to multi-task

  • Turn off notifications on your devices. Arguably the simplest and most effective change we can make. Every time a message comes across your screen it detracts attention from what you were working on. You lose time as it takes a while to refocus on the original task.
  • Adopt specific strategies to focus on one task at a time. The Pomodoro technique involves focusing clearly on something for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break before shifting to a different task.
  • Remove distractions from your work environment. Create a place where you can focus without interruptions – people and technology. Constant interruptions from people will again change your focus while you respond to them. Be clear that you are not available for a defined period of time and catch up with people later. 
  • Ask yourself if you are procrastinating. Are you starting multiple tasks to avoid focusing on something you don’t want to do or find challenging? If you recognise this ensure you specifically plan time for this task before others.
  • Write a schedule for the day. Having a clear list in order will help you focus on each task in order. It also highlights how much time we lose during a day and gives the satisfaction of ticking things off a list.
  • Take short recharge breaks. When you notice that the pressure of multiple demands is building up take a couple of minutes to ground yourself and calm things a little. This can be as simple as a few slow deep breaths which send messages to the brain that it doesn’t need to be on high alert.


Many of the changes we can make are simple adjustments and changing unhelpful habits. 

You will notice if you adopt them you achieve more with the satisfaction that brings, you won’t feel so tired as your brain has not had to work so hard even if it has achieved more, and there is an overall positive impact on your wellbeing.

Our wellbeing is affected by many things and to develop your own practical and realistic wellbeing plan what includes consideration of helpful habits we can adopt join one of the free Self-care Power Hour sessions.

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