Multitasking is Evil!

Published on July 13th, 2009 by admin

Multitasking often gets touted as a valuable skill on resumes. In reality, it complicates projects, misses deadlines and causes stress.

What is multitasking?

Contrary to what you might believe, multitasking doesn’t just mean that you are working on multiple projects simultaneously. It’s much more simple that that. If you’re working on a project and listening to music then you are multitasking.

Multitasking is hard on the brain

There are two steps to changing tasks

Whenever you switch between tasks your brain has to do two processes.

  • Goal Shifting – Dump the old task and replace it with a new one (changing your mind).
  • Rule Activation – Adjust your brain to the new context.

Together these take several tenths of a second to perform. It gets even longer the more complext the task. Combine this with many different tasks and it will add up quickly.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed

You lose your train of thought.

How many times have you checked your email while working on a task? How many of those times did it take you a second to remember what you were doing?

Your ability to finish a task on time is directly related to how well you can focus on it. Your focus gets interrupted every time you switch tasks. The more you switch the harder it is for you to remember what you were doing, this is particularly true for complex tasks. Thus you lose your train of thought.

Priorities get mixed up.

While multitasking, you’re much more likely to spend time on fun tasks and less on crucial tasks. For example, I enjoy programming more than writing proposals. If I were simultaneously writing a website and a proposal I would undoubtedly spend more time on the website simply because I enjoy it more. As a result, the website would look amazing but the proposal would be crap.

Small details get overlooked

Some projects demand a lot of attention to detail. If you’re multitasking, your final product won’t be good as it could be otherwise. New thoughts come into your head as you are working on something, these thoughts are what make up the small details. However, if you’re working on multiple projects, or doing multiple things, you don’t afford the time that your brain needs in order to develop those thoughts. Instead you remained focused on the bigger picture and neglect to polish your work.

It causes stress

Multitasking causes stress when you’re focusing on multipe deadlines. You think to yourself “I have to get this website done, then I have to send emails, then I have to write a new post on my blog, then I have to send out invoices. . . ” All these tasks quickly become overwhelming as you try to do them all at once instead of in small bites.

It gets compounded when doing creative work

It’s near impossible to create quality creative work while you are multitasking. If you have to do it, leave it to the mundane tasks of eating lunch and checking email. Don’t let it get in the way of your creative process.

While you’re working on a design or any other creative project, you have lots of thoughts that drive your decisions. For example, on an interface design I’m constantly thinking about how my decisions will affect the overall look and feel, usability, my audience, composition etc. It’s hard enough to keep all these straight while I’m performing the creative task but when I add something to that, it’s next to impossible.

Work smart and stop multitasking

Work smart, set priorities and work at them one at a time. Make a to-do list and check them off as you get each one finished. You’ll be surprised at how much you get done and how much easier it is.

Further Reading

How NOT to Multitask – Work Simpler and Saner

Is Multitasking More Efficient?

Getting Things Done

Your thoughts

Are you good at multitasking? Is everything I just said BS? Then post a comment below and let me know!

Leave a Reply


  • Post by Henrik MÃ¥rtensson on September 1, 2010

    You are right! It is also worth noting that multitasking is usually a bad idea from a purely process oriented point-of-view too. A person who multitasks interleaves tasks belonging to different projects. This pushes the end times of all the tasks, except the first one, further into the future. If some of the tasks are on the critical chain (improved way to calculate critical path) of one or more projects, then the end dates of the projects those tasks belong to, will also be pushed into the future. You get really big project delays that way. It is the same thing that happens if you start too many applications at the same thing on your computer - the system gets overloaded, and suddenly everything slows down to a crawl. Whether the system consists of humans working together, is a computer system, or a manufacturing line, does not matter. The system behavior is the same in all cases.

Popular Posts

Posts By Category

Supported by