There’s a reason why the phrase “multi-tasking” replaced “juggling projects” in our business dialog 20 years ago. That’s because the phrase didn’t exist until we began marketing computers that way.

The processors, or brains, in computers are engineered to literally take on multiple tasks at the same; programs that fetch email, check spelling, render videos and crunch numbers can remain open and operate.

So naturally, if computers can do it, maybe we can too? Right? Wrong.


A slew of cognitive studies over the last five years have shown that what we think is multitasking is in reality over-active and distracted brain activity. The brain can only focus on one process at a time, so we’ve actually become expert “start-and-stoppers.” What’s worse, our attempts at multitasking slow us down, as errors increase and fatigue quickly clouds any accomplishments we think we make.

“Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress,” according to an article on multi-tasking by Matt Richtel of the The New York Times. “When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline.” Richtel states, “Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You’re conditioned by a neurological response: ‘check me, check me, check me, check me.’”

The Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenberger writes in her article, “Multitasking Makes You Stupid” — “Instead of multitasking, try completing one activity at a time. When you concentrate on one activity at a time, each activity will be improved.  You might even complete a whole project this way.”

OK, so while we may have lost the multitasking battle, we can still win the productivity war. I suggest a system of setting a timer for 20-25 minutes to work on one activity or task.  At the end of that time period, reward yourself with five minutes of “break time” or non-stressful activity or relaxation.  Then go back to the timer, reset it, and complete another project or part of a project.  After 8 cycles of this — or two great hours of productive sprints — take a 20-minute break.  You deserve it!

What are some areas ways you can be more productive? Better yet, are there any strategies you’ve come up with that help you to achieve project deadlines? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.