Is multitasking the key to productivity?

multitasking mom

We have heard the word multitasking for years. Especially as life became busier and busier, women (and men!) are working to balance out their lives with their career and families. There are so many hours in the day so the only way to possibly get things done is to do more than one thing as time, right? Some say Yes, some say No.

Let me present you with the arguments for both sides and see what you think.

Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, one of Time Magazine’s Top 25 blogs says this:

How NOT to Multi-task — a guide to working as simply as possible for your mental health.

First, a few quick reasons not to multi-task:

  1. Multi-tasking is less efficient, due to the need to switch gears for each new task, and the switch back again.
  2. Multi-tasking is more complicated, and thus more prone to stress and errors.
  3. Multi-tasking can be crazy, and in this already chaotic world, we need to reign in the terror and find a little oasis of sanity and calm.

Leo’s thought is that we will get less done, because our focus is divided. His recommendation is to be focused and intentional about what you are working on.

Multitasking- The only way to survive our world

From a poll on workingmums: One woman who took part in the poll commented: “You have to be able to multi-task when being a mum as you have the house chores or other siblings or even work to juggle, so you have to be able to feed your child while getting the washing out.”

Another mother, Samantha Dolke, added: “Young mothers today have to adapt to the always-on-the-move, juggle everything at once mode. If you don’t, you’ll end up a nervous wreck. Work, study, eat, sleep, clean, wash and hang clothes, get the kids ready, change bums, read, sing, entertain and work work work! Us mums – and dads (sorry boys!) – are expert multitaskers.”

Talking on the phone to a client while preparing a spreadsheet, intervening in an argument between young children while cooking dinner, looking for that precious lost blanket while cleaning house — all are everyday examples of multitasking.

Of course, doing simultaneous jobs is not a new concept for moms and dads. What parent can get along without it?

Time Magazine says:

“Mothers have done it since the hunter-gatherer era-picking berries while suckling an infant, stirring the pot with one eye on the toddler.” And with more and more men being involved in parenting or being the stay-at-home dad, this is not limited to women.

There is a drawback however. We, especially women, have a tendency to try to do it all at once, and feel it’s our responsibility to get everything done TODAY. We feel guilty if we even think about sitting down with a book or relaxing in a hot bath when we know there is a pile of school papers on the table. We feel stressed and agitated when we don’t have time for our children because we are so busy.

So is there an answer? A solution to getting more things done, but being less stressed and more balanced?

Chunking activities and responsibilities

Chunking activities avoids the pitfalls of typical multitasking because it uses two different parts of the brain at the same time. Instead of everything competing for your attention, you combine a mental task with a physical task. This gives you the ability to keep your focus where it is most needed. You may find that you are actually doing this in your life, but read on to get more tips!

4 steps to implement chunking into your life

  1. Make a list of your mindless activities- things such as showering, commuting, cutting the grass, working out, waiting (in waiting rooms, for carpool, etc). We all have plenty of them!
  2. Based on your Values list and Priorities list, make a list of positive things you want to incorporate into your life- spend quality time with spouse, read more, spend time in prayer or meditation, enjoy nature, connect friends you don’t speak to often
  3. Look at your 2 lists. Are they physical or mental activities?
  4. Connect the activities that would fit well together. Combine physical activities with things that are mental.

Here are some examples-

  • wash your car (physical) with your spouse and talk to him (mental)
  • walk on the treadmill (physical) and listen to a book on your iPod (mental)
  • drive to work (physical) and call friends you don’t get to talk to much (mental) – be sure to use hands-free!
  • cook dinner (physical) while chatting with your kids about their day (mental)

Download the Chunking Activities worksheet

Note-Don’t forget we are talking about balance here. While we are talking about productivity and getting more things done, it is okay to just enjoy the journey. We will be talking more about that over the next few weeks!

What are your thoughts about multitasking and chunking? Did you find some ways you can combine some activities and responsibilities?

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15 comments to Is multitasking the key to productivity?

  • great post! it’s definitely a balance. i personally have to consciously try to slow down and not do so many things at once. i tend to get more concerned about my measurable tasks like cleaning and cooking than my not-so-easily measured tasks like playing and interacting with my children. i really like the chunking concept – first time i’ve heard of it – i’m going to try and incorporate more of that…

    bernicewood Reply:

    Hey Stacey!
    Hope it helps you with achieving the balance you are seeking. Thanks for coming by and I hope you come back!

  • Hi Bernice,

    Your comment on MWP came into my box. It sounded like we’ve got some ideas in common, so I decided to swing by!

    Chunking is a great idea. I’ve gotten away from the multitasking model myself. It made me have brain freeze, where I had so much going on upstairs I couldn’t even think or take action.

    Now, I pretty much do one thing at a time. How can we be in the present if we’re scattered all over? Why companies would want to hire multi-taskers makes no sense to me. Would we want our surgeon to be writing her memoirs during the operation?

    That’s why so many mistakes get made in this mad rush to nowhere!

    Great piece. Giulietta
    Giulietta Nardone recently posted..Do you ever feel like you’re living someone else’s lifeMy Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    While I do think that some multitasking can be helpful, I agree it is better to be present and intentional when at all possible!
    Thanks for coming to visit!

  • liz

    I see the point behind Chunking, though I don’t think those things really make a difference to the bottom line. Like, I’m not really getting anything accomplished by listening to music while on the treadmill.

    I do think we’ve gotten *too* good at multi-tasking, and now it’s to our detriment.
    liz recently posted..2 vs 3My Profile

  • I think I’ll leave multi-tasking to the women here – they’re generally much better at it! Personally, I find it best to focus on doing just one thing at a time otherwise my head would explode.
    Brent @ Millionaire Studio recently posted..Learning To Draw Attention To Yourself Like Lady GagaMy Profile

  • Excellent post Bernice.
    For me, multitasking can be an effective way to stay on top of things… unless it creates distraction and overwhelm. So, with anything, it’s about balance and staying “in charge” of the list of ToDo’s. I have absolutely empowered myself by taking on a few projects at once, and progressively making progress on them simultaneously. Key is knowing when there are TOO many projects and TOO many tasks, and to notice if we are beating ourselves up and struggling to get it all done perfectly.

    :) Susan
    Susan Liddy recently posted..Body Benevolence- 14 Ways to Improve Your Body Image PerceptionMy Profile

  • I’ll leave multitasking to moms doing household chores they’re good at it.

    bernicewood Reply:


  • Jan

    I totally agree with balance – in everything. And the key to adding prayer to our lives can be in this balance; while walking, cleaning and especially dusting blinds! In those tasks when sometimes we empty our minds – we can fill them with the Lord.

    I am a terrible multi-tasker and my husband is totally focused on what he is doing. But when I do concentrate on a task, for instance, writing to you – he starts chatting to me as though I could just drop what I am doing for that time; yet when I ask him a question when he is trying to find the volume on an old boom box, he can’t even answer me. Go figure. I can’t understand it.

    I am trying to block time for those things I need to concentrate on. My best time is the early morning while he is still asleep. Besides praying, reading the Bible, I also check blogs and concentrate on what I am writing.

    So believe me when I say that retirement can bring its own times of balance.

    Blessings on a great post,
    Jan recently posted..SIMPLY SATURDAY – meets Five Minute Fridays – Deep BreathMy Profile

  • Multitasking is not the key to productivity. Multitasking makes the tasks to take longer into completion, makes one more prone to errors, and increases the stress level.

    To learn more about the effects of multitasking, take my free exercise at

  • Hello neat post.
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  • I’m with Leo on this one. I vote no to multi tasking increasing productivity. I am a big believer in sibgle tasking and being present on that task whether it is work, being with my son, cleaning house etc. I find I am more productive using a single tasking approach and it is a lot more enjoyable than that juggling feeling

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