One Thing at a Time: How NOT to Multitask

Yes, you read that correctly. In this post, we examine how NOT to multitask. Society has impressed upon us the need to engage in as many activities as is humanly possible simultaneously. Why? Because we need to get everything done as soon as possible! But, this is not the way. In fact, multitasking comes at a price. What is it that we lose with multitasking? 

Psychology Today outlines many of their article entitled, “10 Real Risks of Multitasking, to Mind and Body” ( Among many of these are increased anxiety and depression, greater propensity toward distraction, inability to focus. Multi-tasking takes more from us than it delivers. While we may be able to check something off on our to-do, was it completed to your satisfaction? This is what is known as a “switch cost”, “a reduction in accuracy and performance. “…individuals almost always take longer to complete a task and do so with more errors when switching between tasks than when they stay with one task.” ( Inevitably this leads to rework and lack of overall satisfaction with the end product.

Boundary-Setting and Distractions:

What do boundaries have to do with multitasking? Multitasking allows numerous other stimuli to vie for your attention. Boundaries are essentially distraction management and minimizing these disturbances.

How often are we not in the middle of a task when we are interrupted by a ringing phone, a text message ding, or a little one who needs your immediate attention? I venture to say that most of us at some point or another, often on a regular basis.

This is where boundaries come into play. If you persist in allowing interruptions, you may end up with attention deficit issues, resulting in greater anxiety, memory loss, confusion, and irritability. This does not mean we cannot be interrupted. Rather, we set aside certain times that we are allowed to be interrupted. If your phone proves to be distracting, silence notifications, or use apps that will minimize distractions.

If family members happen to be the culprit, use a visual cue so they know you are “interruptable” – a sign on an office door or even wearing a silly hat.  Announce to your family when you are entering into a time that you can/cannot be distracted. Encourage them to establish their own boundaries (never too early to learn). If you are interrupted at an allotted time, do not just jump into the new situation. Give yourself a second to wrap up your task, take a breath, and then turn your full attention to the new matter at hand. If it is your kiddos that tend to do this, let them know that when they ask for your help, they cannot just start speaking. They have to give you a moment to adjust and then you can be fully present with them and their needs. 

Learn to Say “No:

The urge to multitask presents itself when we have too much on our plates. In order to mitigate, it may be necessary for us to lessen these duties/responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to delegate. We sometimes feel like we need to do it ourselves because then “we will know it is done right.” Let that attitude go – let it be a learning opportunity for someone else.

For some, “no” is not an easy word. Often, we sign up for something with all intentions of taking on the extra responsibility and putting in the necessary effort. However, when the time comes, we struggle to fit it into our day. Be realistic with yourself at the outset – is this something you truly have time for? What may you be sacrificing in order to take this on? Can you really give yourself whole-heartedly to the task? Evaluate the cost/benefit. Do not put yourself in a position where you are over-extended. Use your time in the way that best suits you and your vision of yourself.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more time. This may not always be possible, but there are instances where it may be an option. People are hesitant to ask because we equate this need for a time extension as a negative reflection on our ability to perform the allotted task. On the contrary, it speaks more to your quality of work and wanting to put your best foot forward.  

Priorities & Planning:

Not everything is  a priority. When we drift down the road toward multitasking, it is sometimes because we have not properly designated our priorities. Would you sacrifice your focus/work on a Priority 1 in order to half-way complete another item at the same time of lesser importance? Does that even make sense when you truly consider it?

Setting time aside for planning is purposeful and allows you foresight into your day. I am a proponent of time chunking and allotting time for my daily activities. For instance, I may have a time chunk for “Business Administration” every day. Within that 1.5 hours set aside, I further break down the actual tasks and set time limits for each – ex: client check-ins (10 minutes); blog writing (30 minutes), etc. In this manner, I know exactly what I am entirely devoting my attention to at any given time. It is also helpful to use apps that prioritize focus on a singular task. 

Mental and physical health priorities. All too often we are burning the candle at both ends, overworking ourselves and doing nothing to refill those reserves. We end up getting ill or side-lined enough to take time out to concentrate on only one thing – getting better! I urge you to take yourselves into consideration when setting your priorities. How much do you give of yourself every day? How much do you give back to yourself every day? These numbers may not match but there has to be a fairly decent exchange or else the math puts you in the negative. 


Multitasking and mindfulness are opposites. They are antonyms of each other and serve opposing purposes. While multitasking decreases productivity and focus, mindful practices increase both. 

 We often think if we take time out of our day for meditation, that time is lost – time we should be using for other purposes. However, exactly the opposite is true. Mindfulness practices and meditation may take time out of your day, but the benefits are ten-fold.  Focus, productivity, and creativity are natural by-products of meditative practices. 

In fact, mindfulness lends itself more naturally to planning and having to avoid multitasking to get things done.  “If we schedule and plan all our responsibilities and duties, we have less to distract us from our daily tasks. When applying mindfulness techniques, planning can be a much more effective process, as it won’t be delayed by the disruptions of other activities and ideas.” ( Again, the focus on proper planning can set you up for being singularly-minded for each of your tasks. 

In the end, multitasking is not a technique that will further your ability to get things done. In fact, it contributes to a greater amount of errors and, eventually, rework. Take time with the tasks you have. Fully engage with them. Your productivity will increase from just being fully present and entirely immersed. One thing at a time….