The Myth of Multitasking Exercise – Revisited

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Think you’re the world’s best multitasker? Know someone who thinks they can do many things at once? Here’s your chance to put your skills to this test! In this video, I walk you through the all-new version of my myth of multitasking exercise.

  1. Complete the exercise.
  2. Share your result below.
  3. Then invite at least two people you know to complete it, too! Compare your experiences with each other.

NOTE: This exercise is adapted from my time management keynote speech and workshop. There are some minor changes to clear up confusion that can happen in a short-video format.

Looking for the downloadable PDF? Here it is: The Myth of Multitasking Exercise – Revisited As promised, here are the definitions of switchtasking and background tasking:

Switchtasking = attempting to do multiple attention-requiring tasks at the same time. Each switch in attention incurs switching cost, which includes a loss of time, decrease in performance, and an increase in stress levels. When most people say they are “multitasking,” they are most often referring to switchtasking.

Background tasking = performing a task while something mindless or mundane occurs in the background. Examples include: delegating tasks to employees while you work on more valuable activities, putting a machine to work on a large job while you answer email, and exercising while you listen to music. Background tasking can improve productivity overall.

Multitasking is neither a good thing nor a bad thing…it simply does not exist! The question is, are you background tasking, which may improve productivity, or are you switchtasking, which always harms productivity. Please help me spread the word!

  1. Complete the Myth of Multitasking exercise.
  2. Share your result below.
  3. Then invite at least two people you know to complete it, too!

Wish you had more time? What if you could uncover dozens of free hours every week, with just a few simple tweaks? Find freedom with a free copy of Dave’s guidebook, How to Get 10 Free Hours Every Week, by clicking here.

33 Responses to “The Myth of Multitasking Exercise – Revisited”

  1. Johnathan8 says:

    Love this hands-on example, Dave! Got 20 the first time, 40 the 2nd time. I’m going to try to have less browser windows open at once today.

  2. John says:

    Multitasking makes you do things longer than you should PLUS makes you prone to more errors. In the end, you’ll end up feeling tired and frustrated because you’ll have to do the work all over again. 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    Too cool! I tend to make lists and complete tasks in order anyways, but this was a good confirmation of the rules of efficiency. I completed the first test in 20 seconds; the second in 35. One thing I noticed (perhaps because I’m type A) my second take was neater rather than messier – I think it’s because I went slower so as not to make a mistake. However, I absolutely felt more ‘stress’ (pressure) to do it right.

  4. Daryn says:

    I did the test and went from about 21 to 30 but I thought that part of the problem was how far I was moving my hand on each character so I did it a third time writing the numbers and letters in one line alternating s1w2i3… and I got about 28 that time. So no real difference. I could feel a difference in the stress, and how my internal dialogue changed in the second set.

    While I don’t normally really feel the slight difference when I am not watching for it, I do notice the change in my internal dialogue and now, when I notice the change, I will try to step back and see how I can order my tasks to reduce stress. With some effort, I’m sure I can get this trigger to work for me.

  5. Andy says:

    Hello Dave,
    I have been through your Time Management Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, and I’m trying to implement the system (I can see how it will work). Should I buy The Myth of Multitasking book as well, or will it not teach me anything more than what’s in the course?

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Hi Andy

      The Time Management Fundamentals course is extremely in-depth and goes far beyond what I cover in The Myth of Multitasking. So, no I don’t think it necessary for you to buy that, except to give it as a gift to those who are still addicted to multitasking and won’t go through the full lynda course.

      As an alternative next step, I recommend you go through the invaluable series of courses on lynda.com including. Link to full playlist of the Invaluable series on lynda.

      • Andy says:

        Thanks for your help Dave

        I have had a look at the Invaluable series of courses, but haven’t been through them in depth yet. I’m trying to get traction with the Time Management Fundamentals first!

        Love your work Dave, keep it up!

      • Andy says:

        Dave,
        With regards to your Time Management Fundamentals course, do you have an infographic or brief summary which outlines the system on a single page format?
        I would like to have some kind of “poster” up at my desk to remind me of the process until it becomes habit.

        • Dave Crenshaw says:

          Hi Andy. No problem. The “What When Where” processing system overview is included in the lynda.com exercise files. You can download those files and print it out. It’s a great idea and I recommend it for everyone going through the program.

  6. Prissi says:

    15/37 seconds! sorry to necro this as I know it’s ages old~ not that I ever thought I was great at multitasking, but physicians are pretty much required to during training because your entire day is a multitask, and when emergencies spring up you’re going to have to reorder your priority list. I’ve been in situations where while completely alone, I had to manage multiple potential life-or-death emergencies at once in addition to other urgencies (pager going off, nurses asking for orders, nurse at another facility asking you to come evaluate a patient for something urgent but not emergent, etc.) and regular work (floor consults, notes, etc.) and sometimes less critical things do end up being forgotten until things calm down… and there’s really no way around it, short of more manpower. 🙂

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Thanks for your insight Prissi. Your last two words are the most critical: “more manpower.”

      There are some interruption-driven environments, such as emergency medical response, IT support, inbound call centers and auto repair, that are going to fluctuate between periods of downtime and periods of mad time demands. In situations like this, in order to get the best results, it’s better to overstaff to avoid switchtasking–speaking from a performance standpoint.

      However, monetary concerns sometimes prohibit this “human buffer” against switchtasking. When administrators choose to cut costs by under-staffing, they must accept that some of the four effects of switchtasking will be unavoidable: things will take longer, people will make more mistakes, stress levels will increase and relationships will be damaged. Those are some pretty scary costs when human lives are at stake.

  7. Andy says:

    Dave, I just received an email from Microsoft Windows with the subject “Multitask like a pro with Windows 10”
    The body of the email contains the following:
    “Multitask to get more done”
    “In this second email of the series, you’ll learn how to multitask …”
    “Multitasking gets you to “finished” faster”.

    What is your take on Microsoft encouraging people to multitask?

    • Dave Crenshaw says:

      Hi, Andy. My take is that this highlights why the word “multitasking” should be removed from our vocabulary. They’re perpetuating the confusion between computer multitasking (which can help efficiency) with human multitasking (which always takes longer, makes more mistakes, and increases stress levels).

      If you know the name and address of the marketing exec who put this ad together, I’ll be glad to send them a copy of my book as a gift. 😉

      • Andy says:

        Thanks for your response, Dave.
        I could forward you the email so you can respond to them!?!

        And you could send the gift book to me 😉
        I have done the Time Management Fundamentals course, but I haven’t got your book.

        • Dave Crenshaw says:

          Thanks for the offer, Andy. I’ve seen the email as I have Windows 10 too. The question is, what is my Most Valuable Activity (MVA)? I know for sure it isn’t hunting down Microsoft. I’m best when focused on helping small businesses. So I just chose to ignore the email when I saw it. 😉

          And, I know you were joking about the book. Always be willing to invest to gain knowledge…never ask for it for free. 😉

          • Andy says:

            All good Dave.
            Keep up the good work.
            I love reading your blogs.

            BTW I have Scottish ancestory, and I’m also in a procurement role, so I naturally try to negotiate to get as much as possible for as little expenditure as possible!!!

  8. josh manis says:

    I am going to have to just stay more focused

  9. Bradley says:

    Wow, that was eye opening.

  10. Tris says:

    According to my timer I took eighteen seconds to complete the first pass. Although, I received a twenty-four on the second pass.

  11. Amy Piliposian says:

    Hello Dave,

    This exercise was amazing! I honestly thought multitasking was a real thing until my professor mention that it was just a myth. So after watching this video and actually participating I realized that everything you have mentioned was exactly what was happening. I will be reading your book to have a better understand again thank you so much for this exercise.

    Sincerely,

    Amy

    • Thank you for taking a moment to comment, Amy! I love how students, teachers, and schools are using this exercise to help encourage people to focus. It’s a positive unintended outcome from writing the book. 🙂

  12. meredith says:

    wow! I switchtask a lot and this exercise was an eye opener! I got 20 the first time and 40 the second time. Writing was sloppy the second time and took much more concentration!

    • Thank you for candidly sharing your experience, Meredith! Please share this video with others and spread the word so we can help others have less stress, make less mistakes, and get more done.

  13. Thank you for sharing on your blog, Carina!

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