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Is multitasking productive?

By Julie Stobbe / November 2, 2021 /

Reading time 10 minutes

Multitasking is a myth. The brain can’t complete 2 high-level tasks at the same time states Chris Adams, in  “Can People Really Multitask?”  So what are we really doing when we work on 2 things at the same time?

Task layering 

People believe they can multi-task because the body can do a physical activity and a cognitive activity at the same time.  So people are able to walk and talk, run and listen to a book etc.   The new term I have heard for this is task layering.  We certainly can do task layering, don’t get it confused with multitasking. Task “layering” is defined as strategically deciding to do tasks that require different “channels” of mental functioning such as visual, auditory, manual or language.  Read more about task laying that actually works in this article


The brain does not do two cognitive tasks at the same time.  The brain switches between tasks, very quickly.  Every time the brain switches tasks it must determine how much of the task has been completed and what the next step would be and then continue with the task.  This time contributes to the slowing down of completing the two tasks.  If the brain works on one task at a time it completes it without delay.  Try it, put an article in front of you and something to write.  Do them both at the same time and record how long it takes you to get the two tasks done. You will notice that you will keep going over the material to see where you left off as your concentration shifts between the tasks.   Next, do each task separately and time how long it takes to complete both tasks.

Bar graph showing error made during multitasking activities

More errors are made when people multitask

How to stop multitasking

In order to stop multitasking, plan your work schedule and remove the distraction of other work, e-mails, tweeting, phone calls, televisions, music etc.  Your work schedule may have lots of shifts in tasks.  Some people like to schedule a 60 -90 minute work session and then change tasks.  Other people may schedule 30-minute sessions and change tasks.  What works for you? Some people need to have music or white noise on to help them concentrate and block out distractions.  Other people find music distracting.  What helps you to keep your focus on one task at a time?

What do you think? Is multitasking productive? 

Julie Stobbe is a Trained Professional Organizer and Lifestyle Organizing Coach who brings happiness to homes and organization to offices, in person and virtually. She has been working with clients since 2006 to provide customized organizing solutions to suit their individual needs and situation. She uses her love of physical activity to reduce clutter, in your home and office. She guides and supports you to manage your time. If you’re in a difficult transition Julie can coach you to break-free of emotional clutter constraining you from living life on your terms. Online courses are available to help instruct, coach and support your organizing projects. Get started by downloading Tips for Reorganizing 9 Rooms.

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