Why Multitasking Is a Bad Idea

May 02, 2017

Remembering every word of Abraham Lincoln’s historic Gettysburg Address is difficult. It’s even more challenging when you are dealing with distractions.

At Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Tuesday, Time Inc.'s chief content officer and Fortune president Alan Murray tried to write the famous Civil War speech by memory while being interviewed on the phone by Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove.

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The demonstration’s purpose was to show that people “are not very good at multitasking” and that even trying to do merely two things at once is “not an easy thing to do,” said Fortune editor Clifton Leaf. This is despite the fact that the average person shifts their attention span roughly 565 times a day as technology and social networks like Facebook have become increasingly part of many people's lives, Leaf later added.

Before Cosgrove called, Murray appeared to be at ease in front of the audience as he wrote the speech on a laptop. But after Cosgrove started peppering Murray with questions, Murray’s concentration waned.

“You seemed to have paused,” Leaf noted when Murray was seemingly befuddled as he focused on writing while Cosgrove kept pestering him with questions about leading Time, Inc.

Indeed, Murray found it hard to listen and write at the same time, and admitted he was having problems recalling and writing the speech.

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“Now I know I would have rather done the virtual reality demonstration,” Murray joked, referring to having participated in the multitasking demo and not another one.

Indeed, sometimes it helps to sit down and focus on the task at hand rather than doing too many things at once.

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