The Multi-Tasking Myth

With Aimee Bateman

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The Multi-Tasking Myth


Multi-tasking... is it effective or is it the art of mucking up lots of things at once? Aimee Bateman talks about whether it's actually worth claiming you're a great multi-tasker (or if it's holding you back).

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Hi, I’m Aimee Bateman, career coach and founder of Careercake, and in this video I’m going to be talking about the myth of multi-tasking. Now the first published use of the word multi-task appeared in an IBM publication, it was used to describe a computer back in 1965. Yes, a computer. Now the term has since been applied to human tasks and in the 1980s it was really fashionable to just use this word, everyone was just throwing it around, to describe people in the work place, everyone wanted to be a multitasker.


The short answer to whether people can really multitask is no, and that’s what this insight video is about. What actually happens when you think you’re multitasking is that you’re rapidly switching between tasks, and since the 1960s psychologists have conducted experiments on the nature and the limitations of human multitasking, and the studies indicate that yes we’re awesome and our brains are amazing, but we cannot truly multitask. Now the cerebral cortex handles the brain’s executive controls.


Now these controls are the things that organise our brain into processing, ok. So the controls are divided into two stages. The first stage is something that’s called goal-shifting, now this is where you focus all of your focus from one task and then you shift it to another, this is goal shifting. The second stage is rule activation, now rule activation turns off the instructions for the previous task and turns on the instructions for the new task. So you’re not actually multi-tasking, your focus is going from one to another really quickly. So is this behaviour going to help you get more done, or is it only going to result in yes doing more things, but doing them slowly and badly?


There’s a famous quote out there that I love which is “multi-tasking is just the art of messing up several things all at once”. Because multi-tasking is slowing you down believe it or not, you’re going to make mistakes, when you go from one thing to another, you are likely to make mistakes and you’re going to feel overwhelm, it can cause stress, and when we’re feeling overwhelmed and we’re feeling stressed, we tend to overreact, and sometimes miss other things that are important.


 It can make you difficult to be around as well, I’ve worked with people that are multi-taskers and they’re very proud that they’re multi-taskers, but they’re just manic, and they’re crazy and they’re messing up all the time and overreacting and that stress rubs off on other people. And what I think is the most important thing, is that it actually limits your creativity, it doesn’t allow you to just throw yourself and be absorbed into a task so you can’t problem solve effectively. Now you can multitask if tasks that you’re doing don’t need a huge amount of energy, focus and attention. So yes, you could upload videos while you’re printing off loads of documents from the printer, so choose tasks which are routine, which are familiar, fluent stuff.


Now they always say that yeah we can walk, we can breathe and we can talk all at the same time but if you’re walking and somebody says what’s 2421 times 18, you’re probably just going to stop. Or when you’re chatting in the car but you need to focus on where you’re going and all of a sudden you’re like shhh I need to focus. So rather than multitask and brag that you’re a multitasker, slow down, yeah, slow down, prioritise your workload, get really organised, get focused and get results.