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The Truth About Multi Tasking

Jeni Hooper

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We live in a busy information rich world full of opportunities. How can we get the most out of life? You may have heard of multi tasking as the solution. Can anyone do it and what are the benefits?

Some people like to do several tasks simultaneously. They say it saves time. Other people enjoy the adrenaline rush which can make you feel good. But how effective is this multi tasking juggling act?

The truth is that the human brain has evolved over 1,000's of years and is designed for focused concentration. You may be able to do something automatic like riding a bike on a quiet country road while talking to a friend but as soon as you meet traffic you probably both stop talking so you can focus.

Scientists have used imagery techniques to explore what happens when we multi task. Their findings suggest we are not so much multi tasking as stopping and starting. This dipping in and out to perform tasks in sequence, actually slows the time taken for each task. So overall we are busy for longer. We also make more mistakes particularly with anything that needs careful thought.

Children are even less adept at effective multi tasking. Some children may enjoy the variety and seek the additional stimulation it provides but the hyped up state of mind very definitely affects the quality of what is achieved. While we don't know what causes ADHD we do know that multi tasking doesn't help children to learn deep and focused concentration.

Five top tips for successful multi tasking.

1) Choose simple tasks which are dull and repetitive so that the multi tasking helps you stay involved

2) Use multi tasking for the adrenaline rush when you are tired but make sure you have time to wind down later.

3) Avoid multi tasking when careful thought or problem solving is needed. As an alternative complete tasks one by one, giving each your full attention.

4) Be aware that you may get distracted and make mistakes. Leave extra time for checking once you have finished

5) If you like to have music on in the background, choose something that you don't really listen to closely. If you find yourself following the tune them you have probably been distracted rather than assisted by the music. Sometimes that is an acceptable trade off if you know that otherwise you will be tempted to give up. Be aware that you will be working more slowly as a result.

Jeni Hooper is a coaching psychologist and can be contacted at Happy2learn. If you have questions or comments about this article please contact Why not sign up for the newsletter.

Jeni Hooper is a Chartered Psychologist, Personal Development Coach and Director of Happy2Learn. She can be contact at


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