We live a very busy (although most of the time unproductive) world. To do lists, pointless emails, countless meetings, deadlines and so on. We often busy but usually unproductive.
People spend 8 hours in the office 5 days a week, yet not much gets done. The fact that you simply can’t stay focused for such a long period of time may have something to do with it 😂

Bet let’s get to the point.

Can multitasking make us more productive?

tldr: no, multitasking is a myth and will not make you more productive.

computer, pen and cheecklist to explain why multitasking is not working

Why multitasking is a waste of time?

The main reason multitasking is not making us more productive is task switching. Or more importantly, the cost of time switching. Humans are not able to switch tasks without a time cost. Every time we switch from doing one thing to another it takes some time before we can focus again. Focus being the keyword here. This is especially true for knowledge workers. The time lost will vary greatly from person to person and also depend of type of tasks. However, it takes approximately 23 minutes to regain focus get back to an interrupted task. We’ve been talking about interruptions and how to limit these in a number of posts already. When you’re multitasking, you are essential interrupting yourself. You’re stopping take A only to start working on task B. Then you waste time to regain focus when you switching back to task A. Makes no sense right ? Yet, so many people think that multitasking is working for them.
One of the reasons for this kind of thinking is the fact that most people confuse being busy with being productive.

Why multitasking is slowing you down?

There are two main reasons.

1) Most of the time you are not really multitasking.

That’s right, most of multitasking is simply task switching. Let’s say you are working on two things. You are designing a logo (task A) and writing a client proposal (task B).
Let’s say the logo design would usually take you 3 hours to complete and the proposal 1 hour to complete. So that’s a total of 4 hours if done in consecutive order (first complete task A and then complete task B). Simple.

Now let’s look at someone doing same tasks but multitasking. The time to complete would take them 4 hours + all the time lost due to task switching. Let’s say they’ve switched between the tasks 3 times. An average cost of single task switching is 23 minutes.

That’s 4h + (3 x 23m) = 5 hours and 9 minutes.

2) Flow

Switching take will make it virtually impossible to enter the flow state. Entering the zone makes you 100% focused on the job. This in turn makes you much more productive, creative and way, way faster.

OK, so there you have it. As with all things productivity related, the mileage may vary. It’s all about finding what works for you. Try ditching multitasking for a week and see how it works for you.