By now, we all know multitasking doesn’t work. Our brains are incapable of focusing on more than one thing at a time. We might think we’re multitasking as we scan our email while on a conference call, but we’re not. We’re actually switch-tasking—quickly shifting attention from one thing to another and then back again—diluting our focus and losing precious seconds each time we switch. Those seconds add up to many hours of wasted time every week.
So why do so many of us still try to multitask? We’re too busy with too much to do and too little time to do it in. The temptation to accomplish multiple things at the same time is practically irresistible. Even when we know it doesn’t work.
I was thinking about this temptation as I rode my bike to a meeting downtown, about five miles from my apartment in New York City. As I breathed hard and felt my heart beat, I suddenly realized that I had overcome the multitasking hurdle. I was simultaneously getting 30 minutes of exercise and commuting to my meeting.
In other words, you can multitask as long as you’re doing two things that don’t tax the same parts of your brain. Email while on a conference call? Bad idea. But exercise and commuting? It’s a perfect multitasking marriage.
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