It’s Time To Kill Multi-Tasking

What’s the outlook for productive creativity in the coming year? In two phrases: Multi-tasking is dead! Long live single-minded focus!We recently pinged the 99U twitter audience for feedback on how they’re adapting their productivity regimes to be better, faster, smarter, and just generally more awesome in 2011. When the results came in, every single productivity resolution voiced seemed to relate to the rejection of multi-tasking.There were three overarching themes:

1. Getting aggressive with time management.

With email, Facebook, Twitter, etc ready and willing to absorb as much attention and effort as we give them, a growing number of entrepreneurs and creatives are employing a variety of techniques to more aggressively manage their time and attention. A few ideas we heard:

  • Employing Momento to track “resistance” moments. Momento is a simple, well-designed iPhone app that allows you to keep a diary on the go. We love the idea of using Momento to catalogue instances when the Resistance – the evil force that keeps us from making ideas happen – rears its ugly head.
  • Using the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is like interval training for your attention span. Using the technique, you focus on One Single Task for 25 minutes. Then, you get a 5-minute break to stretch, indulge in Twitter, check your email, or whatever else.
  • Doing the hard, creative work first. Whether it’s waking up two hours earlier than normal and writing, or devoting the morning to the core research that will grow your business, we’re seeing an adjustment in priorities. People are trying to focus on meaningful work first, before they turn their attention to email, voicemail, social media, etc.
People are trying to focus on meaningful work first.

2. Disconnecting during creative/deep-thinking time.

Real creative problem-solving requires concerted focus. As they work to carve out blocks of time for deep thinking, people are also finding it necessary to unplug from the Internet. It’s all well and good to say you’re not going to check your email, but if you’re getting a notification every time a new message comes in, ignoring the chatter can be difficult. Some approaches to disconnecting:
  • Living in “airplane mode.” For the uninitiated, setting your phone to “airplane mode” disables phone calls, text messaging, wi-fi, Bluetooth, and GPS functionality.
  • Using an app to control Internet usage. The number of apps that will prevent you from accessing the Internet – or select sites of your choosing – is growing everyday. The two most popular apps are Freedom and Self-Control.
  • Turning off phones and computers outside of work. When they wake up in the morning, during lunch breaks, in the evening at home, etc. Everyone is experimenting with ways to “disconnect” and recharge when they’re away from their desks.
Everyone is experimenting with ways to ‘disconnect’ and recharge when they’re away from their desks.

3. Choosing between the digital and the analog…

Each time a new technology comes online, we’re inclined to think it’s the answer to all our problems. (“Now that we have this client intranet, we’ll never have to talk to them again!”) Currently, we’re settling into the realities and limitations of emailing on the go, sharing our every moment online, and so forth.As people begin to reassess the pros and cons of digital communication, they’re gaining a renewed appreciation for face-to-face conversations, phone calls, and personal interactions that don’t require emoticons to convey tone. Sometimes an email is more efficient, sometimes a phone call is more efficient. It depends on the situation. As our communication channels expand, we’ll have more decisions to make.

What’s Your Productivity Approach?
What’s your take on multi-tasking?
Have you recently adapted your daily regime to improve your productivity?
More insights on: Disconnecting, Time Management

Jocelyn K. Glei

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A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
load comments (45)
  • GraphicDesignBoss

    Q: Have I recently adapted my daily regime to improve my productivity?

    A: Over the years I’ve grown to recognise the times of the day when I know that will create my best design work (mornings or evenings). So I concentrate on my creative efforts in these time-frames.

    I also recently blogged about this “3 Smart Steps That Will Improve Your Productivity & Increase Your Profitability”

  • Mike Kammerling

    I think it’s important to separate productivity and creativity. The pomodoro technique is genuinely excellent for productivity but I find the short time frame exactly the kind of constraint that detracts from creativity. If we are going to experience any sort of flow, it’s good not to be reminded every 25 minutes that we should be being productive. Thanks for this article, I am downloading Self Control now..

  • mauren

    Promodoro ‘there’s a app for that’.

  • mauren

    ah nvm, it’s already listed.

  • jkglei

    I think that’s a great distinction, Mike. I believe there is productive creative time; you can’t force it, but you can create the right (non-distracting) environment for it. That said, I agree that larger time blocks, with more open-ended outcomes are best for big creative tasks, which this approach addresses really well:… . Smaller, Pomodoro-style blocks are great for more manager/admin type tasks. I think the big picture point – whether you’re doing “manager” or “maker” tasks – is that you need to be focusing on one task in a meaningful way to really get something done.

  • Screamintuna

    2011 – The transitional year from mutli-tasking to ‘focus-tasking’

  • Humestiger56

    My bumper sticker for part of the problem of multitasking:


  • David | Listen Feel Breathe

    Yep I’ve noticed that multi tasking just doesn’t really cut it when it comes to being really productive with my time.

    My steps:

    1. Work out 3 things that I want to achieve today
    2. Start doing the first thing
    3. Finish it
    4. Move to the next thing

    I also use the pomodoro technique to make me work faster and to make sure I take breaks in between to maintain my productivity.

  • christopher copywriter

    Great suggestions…
    Good article..



  • Frank

    Have a look at

  • Nikko

    Any one here use Linux. These posts always leave me feeling left out. There seems to be a huge mac bias here.

  • Aaron

    More about this “resistance”, please…

  • justinguruz

    nice one

  • Josh

    I do haha. Ubuntu 10.10 and Fedora 14 as a matter of fact.

  • LoneGunman

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Einstein himself proclaimed, “A creative mind requires a quiet mind”. In these days, the only way to achieve a quiet mind is by literally disconnecting yourself from technology or prioritizing the responsibilities in your life and preventing unnecessary distractions from hampering your creative potential.

  • Waawog

    disagree.. for most this might be true. not for me.

    same way I could study hours in my room in college when there were tons of people downstairs making noise and im blasting music.. just some people can deal and some people cant. very simple if you ask me.

  • Alan8

    I was overwhelmed with all the things I had to do, and would always forget a good number of them until it was too late.

    Then I discovered a “do list”. I keep a text file that has all the things I have to do, grouped by area (business, household, band, misc. projects, etc.) It’s a single sheet that I keep in my back pocket.

    When waiting for something during the day that would otherwise totally waste my time, I take out my do list and plan the next few hours, prioritizing the most important tasks. I add items as I think of them (e.g. what I suddenly realized I need to get at the store, or what to look up the next time I’m at a Web browser).

    I cross off items as they get done, and when there’s a lot of markup, I update the text file and print out a new do list. It empowers me, and gives me back control over my life. When all the items are listed in front of me, they no longer seem overwhelming.

    The blank side of the do list is useful during the day to jot down notes; I don’t have to look for scrap paper while out somewhere.

    Tip: If an item remains on your do list for too long, it tells you there’s an intermediate goal you haven’t written down that you have to accomplish first.

  • Mark

    Excellent thoughts on this topic (not mine, wish they had been):

  • Tim Brownson

    Not to mention that multi-tasking doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense of the phrase. Unless it’s working at an unconscious level, the human mind cannot focus on two task at once without seeing a MASSIVE drop off in cognitive function.

    People who think they are multi-tasking are actually either going backwards and forwards rapidly, thus wasting a lot of time as their brain is forced to readjust each time. Or they are doing 2 things badly rather than one thing well.

  • Debabrata Acharjee

    Well, I do not think we can get rid of muti tasking so easily. It has become our way of life . Do you use your mobile phone when you are watching TV? Do you use location based services when you are in a super cool mall for shopping. I believe it’s a fantasy now ‘to be alone , to wonder, to think’.

  • Guest

    What the article is referring to is focusing on a single task at a time, not whether or not you’re easily disrupted by external noise or loud music.

    If you can focus on your studies (and excel at them) while planning for a big project while tweeting, chatting on facebook, browsing youtube and texting on your phone, then all the better for you :)

  • Bismarkbartels

    i cant agree with you more. multi tasking make u feel like u r a superhero when infact u r with ur mind but not with ur energy and resources. a concentrated effort yields more than spreading ur energy minds and thoughts across board.

  • Tara Rodden Robinson

    Hi Jocelyn,

    Great article! I totally agree. Multitasking is, by and large, a complete waste of effort.

    One thing to consider when doing meaningful work first: the brain seems to prefer moving from sustained attention (working on one task or activity) to alternating attention (moving from one task or activity to another in succession). However, many people find it hard to go from alternating to sustained attention. I recommend that people start with tasks that require sustained attention first (the big project, the priority items) and then move to alternating attention (email and the like) to take advantage of this natural pattern in how the brain doles out attention.

    Best wishes,

  • Tara Rodden Robinson

    Hi Debabrata,

    It’s not a fantasy to have time to be alone, to wonder, or to think. But it does require effort. One must make a conscious decision to have that kind of time. It’s always in reach, however.

    Best wishes,

  • Jenniebakesalot

    This might work unless you’re a woman. Women have been multi-talking since the dawn of time. And what about if your job is a Stay-At Home-mother? Should we really limit our emailing and calling to the times when we’re taking care of our kids?

  • Joan Burge

    Fabulous article! I am an external trainer and professional speaker. I have been an advocate of being focused as the best approach to be productive and have been teaching this to executive and administrative assistants for the past 4 years. It truly helps. Thank you for such a great article. I will share this with my past workshop attendees and future.

  • Bryann

    I’m gonna have to high-five you as well for clarifying. I agree with Jocelyn that pomodoro suits more “manager/admin” type tasks, or tasks that are naturally redundant. I too noticed that using the original 25mins with pomodoro tends to short circuit that “creative flow,” dampening any kind of momentum once we’re on a roll. Changing up the time blocks helps though. I prefer 45min intervals.

  • elizabeth_the_k

    But studying while other people make noise is not multitasking!

  • BlueCollarCritic

    I tried for years to get my former supervisor whom I admire and care for still to this day, to see how foolish multi-tasking was. I have also tried as hard for even longer to convince my wife that multi-tasking is not a benefit nor a better way of doing things. True multi-taskers are unable to see how they are explicitly limiting their productivity by trying to do 2 or more things at once that are NOT automatic or even semi-automatic.

    For years I heard that humans CAN multi-task and our everyday actions prove this. We can walk, breathe and talk all at the same time. I tried to tell my former boos that these were automatic and semi-automatic processes and so walking and breathing could not be considered on par with talking which is not automatic or semi-automatic.

    It is possible to multi-task when said tasks are automatic like breathing and to a certain extent when they are semi-automatic like walking. However active/mom-semi-automatic actions cannot be truly multi-tasked. People only trick themselves into believing they are multitasking when in fact they are quickly multi-switching between tasks

  • apartmentsdirect

    I think it is a fantasy now ‘to be alone , to wonder, to think plenty of people find it hard to go from alternating to sustained attention. I recommend that people start with tasks that need sustained attention first.

    self catering ireland

  • Simona Goldin

    I wanted to add/edit the pomodoro technique. Scientifically speaking, 25 minutes is too short to keep a steady focus. Your mind can actually focus for up to 50 minutes on a single task. Breaking it down into shorter periods might cause a significant risk of stopping mid-task, which might prevent it from ever being completed. 50 minute brackets are a bit more streamlined. 10 minutes breaks to drink, stretch, use the restroom, get some fresh air.

  • Gaurav Mishra

    :D .. Nicely written ( from the above )
    Living in “airplane mode.”
    I really like the notification icon of airplane on the device screen. While switching to same.

  • Faye

    Awesome post!

    experience an illusion of productivity. They feel they are doing a lot, when
    in fact all they are doing is constantly stopping and restarting. They
    completing very little at all. The biggest obstacle to your productivity is
    something that many people believe is what makes them most productive. To
    learn more about the effects of multitasking, take this free exercise at

  • frankbradley

    Great post.  In summer 2010 I decided to get a handle on my own productivity as I was struggling to be really effective at home and at work.  I started with reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  I’ve since incorporated GTD into my daily life and I’ve also implemented the Pomodoro Technique.  The biggest turnaround for me has been moving away from multi-tasking to focusing on one task at a time – a huge time saver.

  • Sallymee6

    “Tip: If an item remains on your do list for too long, it tells you
    there’s an intermediate goal you haven’t written down that you have to
    accomplish first.”

    –Thank you for this! Items always remain on my ‘to do’ list too long and now I understand why… something as simple as ’email Steve’, if it is an important email (but not time-sensitive) can be there forever…  what my list really needs to say is ‘begin drafting email to Steve’…

  • Dan Peck

    intresting stuff on multitasking on the DigitalSilence site :

  • Anthony

    Thank you Jocelyn for this great post,


    Let me explain how we manage time and tasks in our small web-design company
    (we have 10 people in the staff and a number of freelancers distantly) – we use
    tactics of shared time management that helps us to defeat multitasking. First
    of all we never try to rule our employees to force them doing some things
    instead of other things – we provide people with enough liberty to plan their
    workloads themselves. I mean we never delegate them some strict to-do lists,
    but we rather create rules and environment for people to realize themselves. For
    example we regulate things which can be hardly achieved by individuals:

    1)      we set times and
    agendas for working meetings on projects

    2)      we try to cultivate
    a brilliant understanding of projects we do (so people can clearly learn
    overall priorities and their places in the projects)

    keep integrity with multiple assignments and tasks, and we keep people informed
    about the progress we jointly achieve

    help people to plan their days (for a weekly viewpoint), so they always know
    what they have ahead and can regulate their daily tasks (like dividing days
    into dedicated periods)


    we carry out this strategy with a help of collaborative software of our choice.
     It is much easier than using paper means
    as we did this before. Out software is called VIP Task Manager http://www.taskmanagementsoft….
    – if you are interested, it is not completely great in all aspects (for example
    it cannot work with Mobile devices), but for our
    office time management it is just great and simple, it helps us to keep integrity
    and connection between people and projects.  

  • Dino

    If I was ever focused I would not have read this post.

  • Dino

    Distraction is the driving force of our economy; this post is un-patriotic.
    (hear the sarcasm in my voice)

  • Jay Ward, CTS

    So often it is the meaningful work that gets lost. I try to spend the first hour of my work day focusing on this. That usually means reading and thinking. Sometimes you just need to sit and think, right?


    With so many things to do and then getting Lymes disease accomplishing anything was impossible. I finally found Omnifocus with let me empty my mind. In combination with Evernote and iCal it works quite well. Much less is forgotten. everything has a place. My final goal in efficiency is to schedule times for each type of work I do, new business ideas, email, etc. The most freedom I have felt was limiting email to 11AM and 4PM.

  • birdmechanical

    May I suggest using 30/30 as well. It’s something I have found helpful, for scheduling parts of your day of what you are working on a specific project for a scheduled amount of time.

    It’s a timer with a great interface.

  • Meghan J. Ward

    Many good reminders here. I find that when I start multitasking it is easier for me to feel overwhelmed. The key for me is a well-made list of action items for a particular day. Not just one big To Do List (which I also have). I portion out my ‘must do’s for a week over a few days. Once I have crossed everything off my list for a day, I feel like I have had a productive day. This is something very important for me (and I definitely don’t feel it when I’ve been multitasking and scattered all day). I do my best to stick to my list for that day, and reward myself with ‘play time’ as I go along.

  • Aloke

    The pomodoro technique is great for creating time blocks. Check out this web app:


    For me, multi-tasking is not being able to do more things at the same time,
    its to be able to switch between different tasks and then get back to what you were pursuing with the same concentration

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