6 Minute Read

The Myth of Multitasking

The startup founder that can bounce between 18 different clients’ strategy, marketing automation, content marketing, and social while pulling in 3 new client proposals, is a multitasker. The lead developer who focuses on building one 18-hour custom template line by line, is not. Is one method better than the other? What sets these people apart?

Some workers can flip between tasks like a pin-ball machine. Agile and not stressed when interrupted, this person can always be asked a question about any one thing at any moment without skipping a beat. Others need a single focused effort on one task, and when interrupted, need time to dig back in to refocus. When 13.8% of the workday is spent sending, responding to and sorting email, how can we get the most out of the time we have left?


Multitasking vs. Monotasking

Henry Ford learned separating tasks out to concentrating focus afforded more efficient production when creating Model T automobiles. His assembly line proved the point that switching between tasks can cause a productivity dip. Guy Winch Ph.D and Author of Emotional First Aid spells out the problem:

“Multitasking is really task-switching. Moving back and forth between several tasks actually wastes productivity because your attention is expended on the act of switching gears-plus, you never get fully “in the zone” for either activity.”

Makes sense, and that works for some. But for companies like a fast-paced marketing agency outnumbered by clients 5:1, one cannot afford to stay silent for a half day working on just one client or project. Constant touches become necessary to move along several clients each day.

Juggling many projects and having all these accidental collisions that you can’t predict enables a kind of comparative thinking. To focus on a single project from beginning to end is extremely difficult, not just for me, but for many people.” Natalie Jeremijenko


Are you a multitasker or a monotasker? Find out: Click To Tweet


The Difference Maker

An overlooked trait that explains the difference between a multitasker and monotasker is where one lands on the Vitru trait of Focus: one’s capacity to focus attention on sustained, repetitive, goal-focused behavior. Based on one’s predispositions, each person lands on the scale either as more agile or a driver.


An overlooked trait that explains the difference between a multitasker and monotasker is Focus. Click To Tweet


Being agile allows one to be mentally quick and respond to changes quickly while staying focused on the main goals. New mandates are approached in a relaxed manner with brain juggling simultaneously. This is the multitasker who flips back and forth. Loves to check email all day, every day, and will jump and pivot at a moment’s notice.

Drivers target specific goals and work in a purposeful, methodical way to achieve them. According to Vitru, drivers can be counted on for demanding work working in a linear fashion. This is the monotasker, head down, centered on one duty for as long as it takes. May work better on a check-email-twice-a-day routine.

How one ranks on this scale can be an influential determinant on what kinds of industries, departments and projects they work on. Whether they would be good as a project lead, or rather one who focuses on one task at a time, and does it well, then moves to the next one.


How to Manage Them

The Multitasker: This agile multitasker is great to throw tasks at because of their flipping ability. However, this means she or he is prone to task switching to something not pertinent, only new. Reinforce the importance on focusing on the current task and triaging the new tasks to when they should be focused on. Room for a project manager? Move this person to a project management or client facing role and watch their radial abilities shine.

The Monotasker: The driver monotasker may feel overwhelmed with constant distractions and mind pivots. Schedule a time to talk with she or he instead of interrupting while in the flow of work. Make sure this person is aware of what is going on, by having them  “like” the assigned task on the intranet, or sending a quick email to acknowledge it, even if they will not get to the new tasks for a while. Have a 27-part email workflow due by Friday? Perfect for the monotasker to dig in and stay there until all ends are no longer loose.


Although the trait of Focus is vastly underrated and not as apparent as Extroversion versus Introversion battle, when understood and acknowledged, employees are better understood and managed. Do you know who the multitaskers and taskers are in your office? Which one are you?