Is multitasking inevitable?

Instead of making us efficient, multitasking exhausts us.

By Lisa Hess

Multitasking. It’s a fact of life, right? It’s what makes us efficient, keeps us on top of things and allows us to accomplish more in a day that should be humanly possible. Right?


We’ve been conditioned to accept multitasking as inevitable, but study after study shows that it’s terrible for us. Instead of making us efficient, it exhausts us. Rather than keeping us on the ball, it allows the ball to run us over, leaving tasks scattered in our wake. And as for allowing us to accomplish more? Only if we’re interested in checking a succession of short-term tasks off our list.

Despite what we may believe, multitasking does not allow us to process multiple tasks simultaneously. Instead, it trains our brain to jump from one activity to another in rapid succession, making us very good at things that don’t take much time or concentration.

Then, when we want to sit down and focus on something, our brain pokes at us, so to speak, wanting to know what’s the matter. We’re all settled in for a marathon, and our brain, having been trained to accomplish things in one way, wants to know why we’re not doing our usual succession of sprints.

As a result, we end up distracted. Instead of luxuriating in a mental bubble bath and losing ourselves in the task at hand, we end up jumping up and down, pinging and ponging from one task to another like some sort of wayward pinball.

But isn’t multitasking inevitable? Sometimes. Truthfully, I can’t imagine how any teacher can get through the school day without multitasking. But, no matter how devoted the teacher, there is life outside of school. And there are even a few times within the school day when a teacher’s time is (sort of) his or her own.

Becoming aware of when you multitask, how you multitask and what you’re doing when you multitask can help you break the habit at times when it’s unnecessary and retrain your brain to focus on tasks that take more than fifteen minutes to complete.

Is multitasking inevitable?

Copyright 2017 Lisa Hess. All rights reserved.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania and a former elementary school counselor.