As a teenager, I used to do my homework in front of a computer with the TV on my right, my stereo playing on my left and talking on the phone. I felt I could multitask and do it well (sometimes I insisted on it). As I’ve gotten older, I feel I can multitask well … but now with more realistic limitations.

There are lots of studies that suggest multi-tasking is actually isn’t productive at all. It’s true that our brains can really consciously focus on one specific thought at one time. We can’t simultaneously have two thoughts at the exact moment. Multitasking is really when our brains jump between a series of thoughts more frequently (e.g. if you’re listening to a TED talk on one topic but typing an email about an unrelated topic, your mind can only focus on one topic but it keeps jumping back and forth between the two).

Yet for me, I can’t just sit down and do one specific task at a time all the time. For instance, if I’m working on retreat details, I feel I can scan my task list for that while googling information and answering emails about registration. However, I can’t be answering work emails at home while trying to answer my kids’ requests and having writing a blog. Perhaps there’s a distinction between micro and macro multitasking.

Definition performing multiple tasks within a similar discipline performing multiple tasks that span multiple disciplines
Example While working on one project, I can answer emails about it, approach colleagues to discuss different details while posting updates on my social media. While at work, I’m answering emails about one project while handing phone calls about my kids’ doctor appointment and scanning articles for school.

From experience, I do believe we can perform some level of multitasking. However, maybe we need to think in terms of multifoci vs tasks. In other words, it is best to focus on a specific area (e.g. handling all my kids appointments) for a specific block of time, then moving on to writing my blog (and not taking care of my work email simultaneously).

Seeing the distinction between micro and macro-multitasking gives me the freedom to jump from one task to another (even to “feel” more productive) and reminds me realistically of what my limitations are.

Where do you see your line separating micro and macro-multitasking?