Multitasking: A Lie We Tell Ourselves

Multitasking: A Lie We Tell Ourselves

You have probably heard someone boasting about multitasking like it is a badge of honor, and maybe you have done this yourself. We erroneously believe that we can multitask our way through a long work day or to-do list, however, a neuroscience professor at MIT, Earl Miller, states “people can’t multitask very well,” and if you think you are multitasking, “you’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”1

Why time management is important, and how online counseling in New Jersey can help

If you want to understand your personal barriers with time management and become more effective in how you approach work and life, learn more about working with me by visiting Online Counseling New Jersey. By working together, we explore how your own time management strengths and weaknesses can not only help you to be more effective, but can also help you avoid some of the consequences of time management mishaps, like trying to multitask.

Maybe you feel like you are great at task switching, or moving between multiple tasks, but research shows2 that people lost time when switching between tasks, which over time can add up. The presence of technology can increase our tendency to task switch, which can reduce intelligence.3

For instance, if you are someone who is flitting back and forth between email and phone messages while trying to simultaneously engage in other work, the distraction you experience can create a 10-point decrease in your IQ, which was found in a study conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry.3 This study also noted that taking frequent breaks to check messages can impact us in the same way that losing sleep can.

Single-Tasking: Do One Thing at a Time

It seems pretty clear that multitasking is not only an illusion we create by switching back and forth between tasks, but it is also detrimental to our effectiveness and productivity. If the whole point of multitasking is to be more efficient, then realizing that we are not accomplishing this should prompt us to explore other approaches.

Single-tasking, or doing one thing at a time, is a way to practice being fully present in the moment with whatever you are doing. When we allow ourselves to be fully engaged in what we are doing, we can enter a Flow state. Catherine Moore, a psychologist and MBA, writes about Flow on PositivePsychology.com4, stating “Flow is one of life’s highly enjoyable states of being, wrapping us entirely in the present, and helping us be more creative, productive, and happy.”

How to Start Single-Tasking

  1. Meditation can be immensely helpful in developing the ability to focus on one thing at a time, because meditation asks us to bring our attention back to the present moment throughout our practice. In developing a regular meditation practice, you will likely notice that you become more aware of your mind wandering when you move about your daily activities.
  2. Intentionally decrease distractions. If you know that you are prone to checking messages, or if you typically work with the television on, try limiting distractions by anticipating them. Turn your phone off. Turn your television off. Practice keeping only a single tab open on your browser at a time. This can be challenging at first but will get easier as you practice.
  3. Another strategy to help you be successful with this is to set intervals of time you want to spend focusing on one task. The Pomodoro Technique5 is a popular time management technique that involves working for intervals of time – a pomodoro – with brief breaks in between.
  4. When possible, break larger tasks into smaller steps to be completed one at a time. If we are embarking on a multi-faceted project and we do not take time to consider this, we can set ourselves up to be unintentionally task switching.

Sarah Tronco, LCSW, provides Online Counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.


  6. Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

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