“Can you Walk, Talk, and Chew Gum?”: The Myth of Multitasking

“Can you Walk

I can’t multitask!  I’ll be the first to admit it.  I have resigned myself to the fact my brain can only focus on one activity at a time.  There should be a thought bubble over my head that reads “occupied” or “unoccupied” so people know when it is safe to begin speaking to me about a new topic.

People walk up to me at work and just stand in front of my desk while I’m typing.  When I look up they say, “I’ll wait until you finish what you are doing.”  History has taught them it is the only way to have my complete attention.

One of my most embarrassing moments, and mind you there are many, came while I was trying to multitask at work.  I was reading an email when the phone rang.  I was focusing so much on reading the email that I answered the phone, “O’Connor Mortuary, this is Lori, how may I love you?”  Yep, that happened!

Fortunately I knew the person on the other end and we both got a good laugh out of it.  You better believe I turned every shade of red imaginable when those words first came out!  I vowed then I would focus on one task at a time.

I was discussing my limited ability with one of my coworkers who told me that multitasking is actually a myth.  I thought he was being polite but he insisted that he had attended a seminar where he learned that the mind only truly concentrates on one thing at a time.  When you divide your attention it produces mediocre results.

Multitasking is defined as engaging in multiple tasks at the same time, but what I learned is it is only possible under two conditions:

  • The first condition is that one of the tasks is automatic and does not require focus.  So in fact I am multitasking when I walk my dogs and talk on the phone.  Walking does not require thought.  Eating is another good example of an activity we can do automatically.
  • The second condition would be tasks that involve different types of brain processing.  An example of this would be reading while listening to music.  If the music is instrumental you will be able to retain what you have read.  But if the music has lyrics, reading comprehension declines due to both activities activating the language center of the brain.

What image does multitasking conjure up for you?  I see a busy executive talking on the phone, typing an email and nodding to her assistant while tossing back coffee.  Boy, if only I could work like that.  I would get things done so much faster.

Here’s the catch.  While it may appear they are doing it all, looks can be deceiving.

It turns out multitasking is actually counterproductive and in some cases unhealthy for the following reasons.

Reduces Productivity- You in fact are more productive when you begin one project and see it all of the way through whenever possible.  Interruptions ruin your train of thought.  All of the stops and starts end up wasting time and make you less efficient.

Leads to More Mistakes- Multitasking is a good way to get work completed quickly, but not always accurately.  Studies show that individuals who multitask make up to 50% more mistakes and suffer a 10-point fall in their IQ.

Creates Health Problems- The most obvious concern is stress, which can lead to high blood pressure and ultimately more serious problems. Stress also leads to poor eating habits, which can lead to weight gain and other health concerns.  Multitasking can also affect your brain and lead to short-term memory loss.

So next time you have a mountain of work piled in front of you, heed the advice found in Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” – “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Share an example of your multitasking experiences.

Do you also have embarrassing moments to share?

Have you suffered health issues from trying to “do it all”?

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Shayna Mallik says:

    I am someone who has gotten use to having to multi task. Starting one thing then having someone bring something that needs done right now. At times it can be nice to change what you are doing, step away from one task for a brief moment. But then there are times that I go back to my initial task and just have to go thru and figure out where I was so errors are not made. I have worked hard at being able to multi task but after your blog I think trying to focus on one task at a time can help the productivity of what we do, now we all know things come up and we need to switch gears but there will be times when we can stay on our schedule. I also think when we are multi tasking stopping and just taking a deep breath when things get crazy can help us manage those days where multi tasking will just needs to happen. Thank you for the blog and insight!!!


    • Lori Bristol says:


      Thank you for reading and adding your experiences!

      I like your suggestion of stopping to take a deep breath or even walking away for a bit when the tasks become overwhelming.

      I am so glad you are enjoying the blog!


  2. Joe says:

    You are very wise Lori thank you for sharing and I am understanding now how true the statement of “slow and steady wins the race” actually is.

    • Lori Bristol says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting Joe.
      I am glad you found the information helpful.
      Keep on reading!!

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