Dan Harris: It's Impossible to Multitask

Journalist
ABC News Correspondent Dan Harris explains why anyone who boasts about their ability to multitask is lying to themselves. "We literally neurologically cannot do more than one thing at a time," says Harris, who instead defines what we consider multitasking as "doing many things poorly."
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Dan Harris: What I love about this notion of multitasking is people brag about how good they are at it. In fact, it’s a lie. It’s a lie we’re telling ourselves over and over again. I have a friend named Janice Marturano who’s a former executive at General Mills and she now teaches meditation to corporate executives all over America and all over the world. As she pointed out to me, multitasking is a computer derived term. Computers have many processors. We have only one processor. We literally neurologically cannot do more than one thing at a time.

So every time you think you’re multitasking, essentially that’s a short way of saying you’re doing many things poorly. What I’ve learned to do – and it’s hard – is to try to do one thing at a time. So if I’m on the phone I turn off my computer monitor and actually listen, radical as it may sound, to the person to whom I’m speaking. If I’m working on a story at work, writing a story, I shut down my email and try to actually focus on what I’m doing. And what I’ve found is that I move through my tasks in a much more rapid way, in a much more effective way and I’m doing a better job. Now I’m not gonna lie to you, there are times when we have to multitask. There’s no question about it. Things get so hectic in my office and I’m sure in the lives of anybody who’s watching this where multitasking becomes impossible to avoid. I found myself walking down the hallway the other day with a glass of water hanging out of my mouth and I’m typing away on my Blackberry and walking at the same time. So I’m a huge hypocrite on this score, there’s no question about it. But I do my best to avoid it because I know I do my best work when I’m only doing one thing at a time.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton