The awful truth about multitasking

May 3, 2014 | Articles

Dear Direct Response Letter Subscriber:

When the Winter Olympics were on, my wife watched it devotedly.

But she also did social media and e-mail on her laptop at the
same time.

“You’re going to miss the performance,” I said while figure
skating was on.

“I can multitask,” she said proudly.

A minute later a skater did a spectacular triple Lutz, but Amy
missed it because she was looking at her computer screen and not
at the TV screen.

This is yet another demonstration that multitasking is a bad
idea and usually doesn’t work.

A few times I wrote something on the PC while simultaneously
talking on the phone.

Invariably, my concentration on the phone call waned, and
before I knew it, I missed what the person was saying, which was
uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing.

People who multitask think they are getting more done, but a
growing body of psychology research indicates this is not true.

In particular, a 2001 study conducted by Joshua Rubinstein,
Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyer found that multitasking reduces
productivity as much as 40%.

The only multitasking that really works is when you do two
activities at the same time and both are not demanding – for
instance, mowing the lawn while listening to an educational
lecture on your iPod.

I don’t actually do that because I do not mow the lawn or own an
iPod. But you get the idea.

I know a lot of subscribers will write to tell me that they are
successful multitaskers. But unless you have measured your
productivity and quality on a task (e.g., writing) with and
without multitasking, I would argue that you don’t know whether
it serves you well.

As a youngster fresh out of college, I drove from the plant at
Westinghouse into Baltimore to take marketing classes at Johns

I multitasked way back then when, in bumper-to-bumper traffic,
I foolishly opened my textbook on my lap and read while driving.
Result: several narrowly avoided fender benders and minimal
retention of read material.

I am much more of a fan of sequential tasking: doing one
project, and then when you tire of it, switching to something

I saw the rudest form of multitasking recently when I attended a
lecture: many people in the audience were pecking away at their
smart phone screens as the speaker talked.

This is discourteous as well as disconcerting to the speaker if
he sees it. If you don’t want to listen to the lecture, don’t
attend. Otherwise, eyes on the stage and phone in your pocket.


Bob Bly

P.S. While I wrote this essay, I did absolutely nothing else. I
mono-task while writing, which means while I write, that’s all I
am doing. Result: 83 published books and counting. And remember,
I write books on the side; my main job is copywriting.

Bob Bly
Copywriter / Consultant
31 Cheyenne Dr.
Montville, NJ 07045
Phone 973-263-0562
Fax 973-263-0613

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