Is multitasking a help or hindrance to you? I’ve been a fully signed-up member of the Multitasking Gang for many years. But – gulp – I know it doesn’t always help and I’ve worked hard to keep it in some sort of balance so it works with me, rather than against me.

It’s something I talk about regularly with my clients because so many of us seem to be like computers running 100+ programs at any one time (and buckling under the strain). And yet we often steadfastly believe this is the only way to stay on top of commitments and get all that needs to be done, done.

But through my own experiences and all I observe, I’m really not convinced by this anymore. I know myself that I’m not particularly productive or attentive when I try and do too many things at once (hands up fellow TV watchers on their phone or tablet too, regularly needing pauses and plot catch ups ✋✋)

There are some reasons I love multitasking:

  • When I use it judiciously, it helps me use my time efficiently

  • When I combine the right tasks at the right time, it ups my productivity

  • It’s useful when I need to do complex tasks, developing multiple strands at the same time

  • Some times doing just one thing is boring and it keeps me engaged – but again, it’s all about finding the right combination

But here’s the biggies – just a few of the problems I see from relentless multitasking:

  • Lack of focus and fractured thinking

  • Procrastination & overwhelm

  • Inefficiency (everything actually takes so much longer)

  • Never getting in the “zone”

  • Exhaustion, of the body as well as the brain

  • A nervous system in an elevated state of stress (pretty much all the time)

  • Problems with rest and recharge (with a brain in overdrive)

  • Difficulty to go deep, become fully absorbed and do a great job (super important to us introverts)

  • Never enjoying the nice stuff, because the “to do list” is always running in the background

How can you keep multitasking in moderation?

Shifting an ingrained pattern

Well, first of all, it’s not easy if this is how your computer’s been running for a long time. It’s become an ingrained pattern so we’re have to work to move this into a new way of thinking. And for this I suggest my simple 4C approach to shifting a habitual response:

  • Conscious – bring awareness to when you’re multitasking and it’s not working well (without reprimand or judgement). Compassion all the way here.
  • Challenge – gently challenge it with the new way. Remind yourself that you’re practicing a new way; playing with different ways of operating. No big deal.
  • Consistency – do this consistently. Carve out “single task” time each day and stick to it. Start small, build up, again and again.
  • Check in – evaluate how it’s gone when you have managed to focus on just one thing. How has it made you feel? How effective has it been? Take time to celebrate when it’s gone well. If it hasn’t been so successful, how can you improve it next time? What lessons you’ve learned?

Pick your battles

This isn’t about never doing more than one thing at once, but it is about being more judicial with it. So choose when it’ll be good to have singular focus and when it’s better to have multiple things on the go.

And really take time to work out which things combine well and which don’t. So for example, I adore podcasts and usually have one playing in the background. When I cook, I find I enjoy both the cooking and the listening and I don’t think either of these are negatively impacted. When I’m writing my blogs, I find music helps me to find my flow. If I’m working on client emails, I need silence. I like to be on my tablet (embarrassing confession that I love a jigsaw app) when I’m watching TV, but can’t read anything or the plot is a goner (this one I don’t always manage but I’m trying!)

Clear the decks

Remove the distractions and the things that force you to jump into multitasking. Technology can be your friend here – honest. So for example:

  • create a schedule where you group similar tasks together so you can get in the zone
  • have set times to check emails/notifications but otherwise have phones/notifications off
  • only have one browser open at any one time
  • hide your phone or use app blockers (I like Lock Me Out)
  • make your environment work for you (with shortcuts and my usual mantra of Ditch or Delegate!)

As James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits (BIG recommendation for it), think of a hosepipe that you’re trying to get more out of, but it has a kink in which is disrupting the flow. One way it to keep turning the water force up, cramming more through that narrow gap. The other way is to remove the kink, and take out the friction so that less is more.

Find mindful moments

Practice being present in what you’re doing. So when you’re out for a walk, or having dinner with the family, doing something just for you – you’re actually there. Fully present, recharging the batteries, not half lost in the constant chatter of to-do lists in your brain. Same goes for work too. One task, one focus, get done, move on. You’ll be amazed how much more you can get done!

Embracing the Art of Nothing

How does it make you feel when I suggest you spend some time doing nothing this weekend? Is that an incredulous snort? A bit of panic? Or some righteous work ethic demanding more slog?

I know, I get it. I’ve had that myself. And I do appreciate that, as someone who doesn’t have kids or a boss, I’ve got more wiggle room than many. But time is still short; there’s always more to do.

Some truths:

  • Us multitaskers often find it hard to just do one thing
  • And that gets exacerbated when we’re hold the belief that the only way to get more done is to go harder, faster, for longer (a prevalent view in society right now so hard to shift). And not actually true!
  • Oh and then combine it with a harsh inner critic that will keep hammering home that you’re not enough and not doing enough, and you’ve got a pretty toxic mix


It’s one I see regularly in my coaching.  So for example, I talked recently to someone running on empty with disrupted sleep.  One morning, they decided to have a lie in rather than getting up.  Nothing major, just an extra hour or so in bed to recharge the batteries. 

But what actually happened was that they spent all that time running through all the things they should be doing and the bed became a pit of guilt and worry.  And so it was time wasted, and to me, the worst of both worlds.  

They weren’t doing the jobs they wanted to get done.  Even if they’d got up feeling lousy and cracked on, they would have achieved more done than being in bed (not much admittedly, but something).

They were no further forward with the to-do list AND they empowered the Voice of Guilt and Shame (which always makes everything harder).  

And they didn’t get the real benefit of that extra time in bed, relaxing and recharging, so they could get back to nailing stuff.

Instead, they could have tried a new way.  Practiced saying:“Ok, I’m tired and want to take some time out.  An extra hour in bed will help me and I can make the time to make it happen.  So that’s what I’m doing – I’m going to enjoy it and really make it count.”

See, not that hard!  Go on, give it a try.  See if you can learn the Art of Doing Nothing.