Multitasking: Why It Doesn’t Work & What to Do Instead

Multitasking: Why It Doesn’t Work & What to Do Instead


Time is a precious commodity. The great equalizer. 

How we use it, manage it, and take advantage of it is a great challenge to be won. 

Many of us think by multitasking we’re able to accomplish more in less time. 

This mindset, however tempting, is simply not true.

ActionCOACH’s Rick Phelps shares why multitasking is a fallacy and what you should do instead to be productive throughout the day.  

The Brain Is Single Focused

How many job descriptions have you read where “the ability to multitask” is a preferred qualification?

Probably more than you can remember. 

In the past, this skill was seen as desirable. 

But today, research has shown that the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. 

What is perceived as multitasking is actually your brain switching from one task to another. 

“Our brains are single focused. You can do one thing at a time. If you switch tasks, you put things in short-term memory. And when you come back to it, if your short-term memory is still there, you can pick it up. Likely it won’t be there, and you’ll have to redo the work,” said Rick.

According to a Stanford University study, multitasking reduces the amount of attention that you give to each thing and impairs your ability to focus on what’s important. 

The research showed that frequent multitaskers performed poorly in three tests compared to light multitaskers because they were unable to separate what was more relevant. The frequent multitaskers were distracted by all the information in front of them and couldn’t focus on what was most important.

Another study by the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College in London showed that multitasking actually lowers your intelligence AND the intelligence of those around you. 

The neuroscientists discovered that frequent multitaskers had smaller gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex, which correlates to a decrease in cognitive control preference. 

In other words, the frequent multitaskers had a harder time prioritizing and achieving goals. 

Those who live with or work by a heavy multitasker also know that they, too, tend to be easily distracted. 

Rick echoes the severity of multitasking. He explains how you need to compartmentalize your goals and action steps. 

“Multitasking is a bad idea. You need to stay focused on the future and identify what’s most important right now to move forward in that direction,” said Rick.

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Plan, Schedule, and Time Block

The ability to plan, schedule, and time block is critical, and it’s a great way to counteract multitasking.

“At ActionCAOCH, one of the things we teach our clients is time blocking. How to start planning out your day, week, and month,” said Rick.

Each evening, Rick recommends planning your schedule for the following day and making it very detailed. 

Using a daily planner or your phone’s calendar, prioritize key tasks in time buckets. 

“Lay out the specifics of the day. I am going to work on these critical tasks at these times. That then becomes your game plan, and you can start executing. But you can only execute one thing at a time,” said Rick. 

Lacking a detailed plan leads to chaos. 

“If you don’t have a plan, you’ll become distracted by your phone and email throughout the day,” said Rick.

Rick suggests setting all distractions aside, and answering your emails and phone calls at a fixed time each day.

“Do whatever you need to do to give yourself focused time.”

“Our mantra is prioritize, focus, and finish. If you don’t finish in life, there’s no partial credit. Prioritize what’s most important. Focus on it. And finish it. That’s the key to success in life and in business,” said Rick.

Want to learn how to prioritize your time better? Schedule a call with ActionCOACH today. 

Rick Phelps coaches business owners and their leadership teams to create and sustain cultures and systems with the goal of providing spectacular results.

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