How to screw several things up simultaneously

So, apparently, multitasking is still a thing.

Some people – mainly females – still believe that it is possible. Ok, that appears to be a fairly flippant comment, but it is really tongue-in-cheek as I really mean it in the sense that the fairer sex uses it as a point of difference (often in jest) in outlining what they are better at over their masculine counterparts.

I’m here to set the record straight. Not because I am a sexist pig – those of you who know me, know that I’m not – but because it is time to stop pretending that multitasking is a valuable characteristic trait.

And here’s why.


So what is true multitasking?

In my own words, it is the (unattainable) pursuit of two complex tasks simultaneously.

Without going into too much scientific/cognitive theory detail, the area of the brain that is required for complex task-handling – the pre-frontal cortex – can only handle one complex task at a time. I use the word ‘complex’ as some activities are habitual or rely too much on muscle memory, and are therefore not considered complex. It’s a mutually exclusive operation; one task or the other.

So no, talking on the phone to your mum while feeding the baby and unpacking the dishwasher is not multitasking. Neither is cooking meat on a barbeque/braai while talking to your mates and drinking beers. Misogynists note that these activities can be performed by either gender.

That, in essence, dispells multitasking as a concept. Therefore, what people consider ‘multitasking’ often is really just ‘task-switching’.

Note: if you really want to read a good book on the subject, read Singletasking by Devora Zack.

Here’s a funny exercise to do that not only proves it is a myth, but proves why it needs to be avoided and is time-wasting!


So what makes me sound like the bleedin’ expert?

I definitely have made a conscious effort to improve, and #iquitmultitasking, especially in the following areas:

1) blocking out times in my day to focus on one business at a time, one pre-determined task at a time;

2) putting my phone on silent and turning off my email notifications when I am in the middle of a task (interruptions count as tasks!);

3) not going near my phone while driving unless I require Google Maps, in which case it sits in the car phone holder and is on speaker;

4) turning up on time when meeting people and giving them my full attention (mobile phones have resulted in people not respecting others’ time).

In the extreme circumstance that I do need to check my phone – there are valid reasons, like if my wife calls (!) – I apologise to the other person and say that I quickly need to be rude and send a text or answer a call. Generally, people are ok with that, I’ve found.


I, therefore, have one simple request. Please go to your resumé or CV, or if you are an employer or recruiter, the job description, and remove the words ‘ability to multitask’ and replace with ‘ability to complete tasks on time and to the required quality’.

Right, now I’m off to make breakfast while balancing a football on my head while on a skateboard and holding the dog in my left hand.

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