The perils of multitasking

CNBC points out that people who multitask are less focused, and do less well than, people who concentrate on one task at a time.

You may have heard that multitasking is bad for you, but new studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Every time you multitask you aren’t just harming your performance in the moment; you may very well be damaging an area of your brain that’s critical to your future success at work.

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another.

There’s more at the link.  Click over there to read the whole thing.

I used to pride myself on being able to multitask when I was in the commercial workforce;  but looking back, I have to admit that I was completing each task in a ‘good enough’ sort of way, instead of doing it as well as I possibly could.  Now, when I’m focused on writing books, I find that I can’t do them justice if I’m working in the midst of distractions.  I need to concentrate on the creative process.  Even research needs to be done beforehand, with notes compiled and ready, so that when I have to write about what I’ve researched, everything’s at my fingertips and I don’t have to concentrate on looking up something.  I can simply write what I already know, with occasional sideways glances at notes or another window on my computer screen to verify that what I’m writing squares with the facts.

It’s an interesting article, and bears consideration.



  1. Great post. Thank you. I multitasked (and stay at home moms are good at it) and was proud of it. Well, come to 76 and I am having problems staying focused on one thing and wondered why. This probably explains it.

  2. Yet society continues to keep throwing one thing after another at you, as well as putting one onus after another on you so you can't even find the time to relax, pause and reflect on anything.

    The world is like a perverse game of perpetual dodge-ball. You never get time to stop and think.
    And chronically noisy to boot. Constantly being distracted has to be a lot like multi-tasking.

  3. I spent years doing ground control of flight experiment operations for NASA.
    One of the requirements of the job was to continually monitor multiple voice loops simultaneously.
    Some people came by that skill naturally, some could be trained, and some no matter how otherwise competent simply could not do it.
    So we ran everyone through multiple mission simulations and weeded out those who could not develop a talent for multitasking. We simply moved them to responsible jobs that did not involve flight console work.
    Normal operations we would have eight or ten loops punched up.
    For mission critical operations we could narrow it down to three or four, but never less for fear of missing essential information.

  4. There was an interview of an A-6 pilot who flew over North Vietnam, who said he switched off all the non essential warning systems prior to entering enemy airspace. The details are fuzzy, but his comment was that survival depended on intense focus on the important things, like SAM launches.

  5. Unfortunately I'm in a position like Uncle Lar. My job, police dispatch, requires multitasking. And they just keep adding things to our list to monitor.

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