Multitasking – fact or fiction?

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of someone’s multitasking? You know what I mean. You are on the phone with someone, and you hear click clack click clack (because they have you on speaker phone). Obviously, they are trying to have a conversation with you and type something on their computer at the same time. So, they miss what you are saying, and they probably type in a line of your conversation to their report or email.

Or, you are sitting in their office, across the desk from them, and their eyes keep going to their computer screen. And you just know you have lost their attention.

Drives me nuts! Anyone who thinks they are saving time and being efficient needs to really examine that belief. Who’s time are you saving? Your own? Really? Have you looked at the time you spend fixing your errors? What about the fact that it can really take you three to five times longer to get something done when you are multitasking? Where did the time savings go?

One of the best productivity tips I ever heard was “if you cannot give it your full focus, don’t do it.” I know that when I am working with a client, I demand their full attention for the time we are working together. So, all smart phones get turned off, all distractions get set aside, and I will often schedule the meeting to be outside of their office – as another way to minimize the distractions and the temptation to multitask.

For the same reason, I have had to discipline myself to shut my laptop when I am on a phone call. Too many distractions possible with it open, and before I know it I have lost the thread of the conversation!

Here’s an experiment. Just try doing one thing at a time. Try it for an hour. Do one thing. Finish it. Then do the next thing. I bet you will be shocked at how much you get done. I bet you will also be shocked at how clear your mind is when you are only focusing on one thing at a time.


  1. Kiyla Fenell says:

    I think when you are trying to do two things at once they both suffer. Kind of like trying to play with my child while I am trying to get a project done…impossible. Both benefit if you can be fully present at different times and give each task your full undivided attention.

  2. My wife always tells me to stop messing with my phone when others are talking to me. This article got my attention. Thank you.
    Dr. Robert Fenell
    Repetitive Strain Injuries

  3. Terry one of my pet peeves is when I am standing at a service counter in a store and the person helping me answers the phone and spends 10 minutes of MY time on someone else who didn’t make the effort to actually come in to the establishment. It feels like someone cut in front of me.
    Great article! Lynn
    ps: Terry, your gravatar is driving me nuts. What is that thing???

    • ofyl says:

      Thanks Lynn. The gravatar is a closeup of my cat Chanel, who feels the need to supervise everything I do very closely.

  4. Ellen Martin says:

    Hi Terry,

    You are right on! I was at dinner with someone a couple of days ago and the person was texting while we were talking. These behaviors are so insulting.

    I like your suggestion to close down the laptop while on the phone.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ellen Martin

  5. Mitch Tublin says:

    This is so true. The Blackberry is the worst. I do wonder about the younger generations where this method of attention span or lack thereof is the norm.

  6. Terry — such a great article! I have a couple of friends and colleagues who do this to me when we are on the phone — I can hear the keys clicking and it takes them several seconds to respond to anything I am saying. It is so insulting, to be honest.

    When I am on a call or in a meeting, I do make a point of not checking email or trying to work on something else. I think your idea of meeting in a place that will eliminate distractions is fabulous.

    It is so critical to be fully present in anything you are doing. I personally am a huge multi-tasker, but only in that I always have a million things to do and I get them done.

    But when I am on a task, it gets my full attention until it is done. I agree that is really the only way to be most efficient.

    Thank you for this great reminder!

    • ofyl says:

      Jessica – yes, I do the same thing. My clients notice when I am in a meeting with them – if my phone buzzes I just ignore it. When they ask if I need to take the call, I tell them that this particular time is theirs – the call can wait. Makes a big impression!

  7. Grace Heer says:

    Terry, what a great challenge! Can’t wait to try it – just let me turn off the tv, put down my book and hang up the phone. And get off the treadmill…

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!
    Grace Heer

  8. “if you can’t give it your full focus don’t do it”
    this is a great tip!
    It helps me to understand why i need to clean everything before I start something. I need to have a clear mind to give my full attention to something.

    • ofyl says:


      Yes, exactly. Creative people need order and beauty around them. Anything else is just a distraction!

  9. Lisa Manyon says:


    I am so with you there. Another form of multi-tasking that drives me nuts is people who answer their cell phones while dining out. 🙂 Don’t even get me started. LOL.

    Write on!~


  10. Yes! THANK YOU. Only multi-task on brainless activities like watching TV and folding laundry. Anything else better be full attention!! – Carmen

  11. Sue Painter says:

    It’s a Buddhist practice to do one thing at a time, staying in the present moment. “When chopping wood, chop wood. When carrying water, carry water.” We also actually LOSE time refocusing once we are off focus to multi-task. Not saying I don’t do it, but I do it less than I once did, for sure!
    Sue Painter

    • ofyl says:

      Sue – so true! We lose a LOT of time by allowing ourselves to (try to) multitask. That time spent (lost) refocusing is so precious!

  12. Phil Dyer says:

    What a great article! Also, some wonderful additional observations…love the Buddhist quote, Sue…

    I am playing around right now with “What is my “focus” attention span?”

    Due in large part to info like this, I am trying to narrow down the length of time I can focus on something without getting distracted or having my brain really wander. It looks like it is about 20 – 22 minutes…so to maximize my natural body biorhythms…I am trying to work in focused spurts and then get up, move around and clear the brain for a few minutes before focusing in again.

    Have no idea if it’s going to work, but I remember someone saying something about this at MPC and figured I would give it a try!


    • ofyl says:

      Phil, I sometimes tell my clients to just start with 5 minutes on something (especially when they feel overwhelmed). With you focusing for 20 minutes and then moving around you will most likely take over the world!