You Should Never Say You Multitask Again


Afolabi Akindele

If it is not written on the CV, it is said during interviews by candidates that they can multitask as a show of strength, and when I hear this I cower.

Let us get this right, multitasking is a term borrowed from the computer world and it means the ability of the CPU (Central Processing Unit) to execute more than one task (programme) at the same time. The truth is that the CPU only appears to be executing all the programmes at the same time, but what actually happens is that it switches from one task to another so quickly. If you have a Windows operating system (OS) (Haven’t tried it on any other OS) on your PC, press Ctrl+Alt+Del together to get to your task manager, check under process and you will see how your CPU is allocating resources to various programmes that are running. Most will be reading 0%, just to let you know that they are not all running concurrently.

When the term was first used in the career world, it was misinterpreted as multiprocessing, which is different in meaning from multitasking. Multiprocessing uses more than one CPU so it allows for the processing of several tasks simultaneously.  Multitasking then is misrepresented as the ability to do several works at the same time, but unlike computers, humans have only one brain.

With increasing memory size and computing power, computers are getting better in multitasking. However, we humans are not computers; we are not wired same way.

When we are carrying out physical activities, we can do several at the same time, for example, you can walk and talk at the same time.

However, when it comes to tasks that require focus, the human brain cannot afford the luxury of being divided at the same time to several functions. You cannot think about two different things at the same time, nor can you listen to two people with attention at the same time, you will have to shut out one to focus on the other. Try listening to a song (not just hearing the sound) and at the same time reading a book to assimilate, or try composing an email and at the same time explain a process to a colleague standing with you.

Where a task is less of physical power but more of thinking and problem solving, you cannot possibly multitask; you can only focus on one task per time. You definitely have to swing between tasks.

When next you want to say you have the ability to multitask, first ask yourself multitask in doing what?

Studies have shown that trying to multitask have negative effects on humans. Evidences have been provided that it is bad for the brain, can reduce productivity and increases the chances of making mistakes. Since the brain has to keep switching between tasks, it has the tendency to drop balls, lose details, make mistakes and ultimately becomes inefficient in trying to do many things at the same time.

You are in actual sense not impressing anyone by saying you can multitask, what you are saying is that you cannot focus on a task per time.

Do you have a contrary opinion, please bring it up in the comment section.


Akindele Afolabi is a Career Consultant and CEO at Career Edge Limited




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