Why You Can't Actually Multi-task (and When It's Okay To Try Anyway)

You have probably had a moment or two when you have boasted about how much of a good multitasker you are. Doing emails while walking, on the phone or in meetings. You are probably thinking you are being productive by pairing items on your to-do list, well, sorry to hit you with a hard truth but you cannot multitask.
 
No one can, really.
 
Not to get all “sciency” on you guys but there are several studies on the human brain that show that we cannot actually multitask, not in the sense that we can do two tasks with sufficient focus.
 
Think of multitasking like juggling, you can have 3 - 5 balls in the air but you are only ever really touching one. You are catching and releasing quickly and hopefully paying just enough attention to the other balls that as they are coming down you can swoop in and catch a new one just after releasing the prior.
 
Juggling works well as an analogy because there are only two outcomes, you either juggle and it takes longer to do each task or you drop one (or two).
 
The transition between task-switching isn’t seamless. It costs the brain a few vital moments to adjust every time you switch. Some studies have estimated that when you multitask you actually end up taking 40% longer to finish than if you gave one task your complete attention. the brain a few vital moments to adjust every time you switch.
Some studies have estimated that when you multitask you actually end up up taking 40% longer to finish than if you gave one task your complete attention.
 
The juggling analogy also shows you that you can get away with multitask-switching, if you are comfortable with dropping one of the balls. In other words, you must pair a demanding task with a lesser demanding task, for example; listening to a podcast while working out is a good example. You might not remember every single thing the podcaster talks about but so long as it is not important for you to retain that information, it is okay.
 
Fact is, we cannot multi-task we can only task switch. So if you are going to give into the multitasking temptation, just make sure you know which ball to drop!Fact is, we cannot multi-task we can only task switch. So if you are going to give into the multitasking temptation, just make sure you know which ball to drop!