Multitasking Makes you Stupid: Single-Tasking is Smarter

You can’t move forward when you’re running in circles.

You can’t efficiently do two complex tasks at the same time.

We’re addicted to constant distraction and repeated interruption. You feel insecure if your phone stops buzzing, for example.

Multitasking protects many of us from our insecurities.

Image of an old rotary phone.

Put your phone in a drawer for 20 minutes.

Three versions of multitasking:

  1. Perform two tasks simultaneously.
  2. Perform tasks in rapid succession.
  3. Switch between two tasks, multi-switching.

Five reasons we multi-switch:

  1. Job requirements. Think of an emergency medical technician.
  2. Disrespect. Colleagues and bosses don’t respect time.
  3. Slow progress. “Let’s do something else. This isn’t working.”
  4. Boredom. Sometimes switching improves attention.
  5. Distraction. We’re addicted to distraction. If you don’t think so, sit quietly and calmly for 15 minutes.

Rapidly switching between tasks can cost as much as 40% of someone’s productivity time**. You also add switching-fatigue.

You expend energy doing tasks, but switching tasks also requires energy.

Multitasking makes you stupid:

Multitasking makes you stupid.

Some are better at multitasking than others, but some multitasking men had their IQ drop to the IQ of an 8-year-old*.

Single-tasking is smarter:

#1. Create time-chunks:

Suppose your average ability to focus is 20 minutes. Create several 20-minute chunks of time on your schedule to complete important tasks or reach milestones on large tasks.

Put your phone in the drawer for 20 minutes.

#2. Turn stuff off:

Open email. Use it. Turn it off.

Open the browser. Use it. Close it.

#3. Refresh frequently:

  1. Stretch.
  2. Close your eyes and breathe.
  3. Walk around the block.
  4. Get water instead of keeping it at your desk.

#4. Be present when you show up:

Noticing is being present.

You might notice what you see. Or you might set out to notice something specific like the energy level of your team members.

How might leaders move toward single-tasking?

*To Multitask or Not to Multitask | USC Online

**Multitasking: Switching costs (

Multitasking, Productivity, and Brain Health (