*swerve* on

that switch cost

the truth about

multi-tasking and the

cost of it

Attention is our most precious resource. It functions like a spotlight. Distractions — whether they manifest in the form of people, tasks, or otherwise — take us away from what we are focusing on. 

Multi-tasking is fake news.

In a study conducted in 2015, researchers Bowman, Leivne, and Waite tested the way in which mobile use affected concentration and efficiency on a given task. Students read an article on a computer monitor and received IMs on the premise of three different conditions.

The three conditions were:

  1. IMs received before reading

  2. IMs received during reading

  3. and finally no IMs

The Results

The people who received IMs while they read took the longest amount of time to finish the given task because of something called switch cost: the amount of time and cognitive effort related to the switch of changing your focal point of attention.


These students took the most amount of TIME and EFFORT to switch their attention from reading the IMs to reading the test material. Makes sense.

Even after you subtract the time spent responding to IMs, switch cost still explains why it takes longer to do middle condition. This is because you have to refocus and re-orient yourself.

In summary, attention is:

  • a limited resource

  • functions like a spotlight

  • can be allocated to only one thing at a time


Therefore, we can truly and honestly only give our attention to ONE task at a time.


‘Multitasking’ is an illusion. 


In order to be more focused:

  • turn off notifications on your computer while working on a task 

  • turn off your phone? (woah, power move)

  • realize who or what is distracting you — and evaluate what you can do about it

Key Concepts

Attention, Productivity