Why Multitasking Doesn’t Actually Help You

April 19, 2021

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One of my very first clients casually mentioned that she listened to podcasts while working.

I remember feeling both exhausted just thinking about it and fascinated about how she did it (turns out, not surprisingly, it didn’t work very well).

In the productivity world, there’s a whole slew of people arguing against “multitasking.” Multitasking is known to tax your brain unnecessarily, result in sub-optimal work on both things you’re doing, and even hurt your brain’s ability to organize information and understand what’s relevant and what’s not.

But how does that square with many of our personal examples of successful multitasking?

For example, I personally love to listen to a British rom-com audiobook while cleaning. Not only does multitasking in that scenario work for me – it also increases my enjoyment of a thing I have to but don’t love to do.

So, can we multitask or not?

In a book titled Essentialism by Greg McKeown (thank you to a client for the recommendation!), McKeown explained:

We can do multiple things at once, but we can’t concentrate on multiple things at once.


This line explains why you can listen to a podcast while walking your dog, but not effectively do so while you work. You can only FOCUS on one thing at a time – and can only add in additional activities if they’re basically muscle-memory activities requiring very little brain activity.

It’s why when I listen to an audiobook while I cook, I have to pause it to read the recipe to understand what the next step is. We cannot truly focus intellectually on two things at the same time.

This may seem obvious to you, but I’ve found that having that line drawn so clearly has helped me evaluate when to try to multi-task and when instead to focus on things in turn.

Because McKeown’s simple point brought clarity to my own actions going forward (and you know how much I love clarity), I just wanted to share it with you in case it can help you, too.

If you want to nerd on this stuff with me, my next group program starts in just about two weeks on April 30. Learn more and enroll here! I hope to see you in there.

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