Single-Tasking and ADHD

Did you Know that Single-Tasking is the New Multi-tasking?

Multi-tasking is when you do 2 or more things at the same time, for example, talking on the phone while grocery shopping or, perhaps writing a report for work, checking emails, and doing your online banking.

If you have ADHD, there is a chance you are a master at multi-tasking.

3 Reasons Why People Living With ADHD Like to Multi-task

1) You crave excitement; by flitting from one thing to the next quickly, your adrenaline is pumping and life seems more exciting.

2) When you remember something, you act on it right away. You are scared that if you don’t, you will forget about it.

3) You have a low threshold for boredom, so you don’t just talk to a friend on the phone; you are also playing a computer game.

However, humans aren’t designed to do 2 things at the same time, not even people who think they are great at multi-tasking. When you are multi-tasking, rather than doing 2 task at the same time, what is actually happening is the brain shifting from one task to the next very quickly.

Multi-tasking is performed by the executive functions of the brain, and there are 2 steps involved:
1) Goal shifting (choosing one item)
2) Role Activation (switching between the rules of one task to another)

The Downsides to Multi-Tasking

  • Every time you switch tasks, you lose time. Some researchers believe people are 40% less productive when they multi-task.
  • Multi-tasking involves a lot of decision making: Do I answer this email now or later? Do I pick up the phone? What is the best way to write this? ADHDers can find decision making challenging so needing to make all these rapid decisions is stressful and fatiguing.
  • There is an increase in errors.

Now, of course, there are some situations where we don’t get a choice: a mum looking after her children or staff in the ER room need to multi-task to respond to the needs of multiple people and keep everyone safe.

However, many times even when our environment doesn’t require us to multi-task, we still choose to do it.


The opposite of multi-tasking is single-tasking, which as the name suggests you focus on one thing at a time.

In this video James Hamblin, the Heath editor of The Atlantic , talks about multi-tasking verses single-tasking. He describes what happens to him when he is on his computer and how he jumps from subject to the next, leaving a trail of open tabs behind him.

As you watch it, you will probably recognize yourself just a little bit.

I don’t know if James has ADHD, but he is reading the ADHD book ‘Fast Minds: How to thrive if you have ADHD’ in the shower.

How you behave on your computer is often a reflection of how you operate in the rest of your life too. If you have lots of tabs (or pages) open on your computer, there is a good chance you have lots of unfinished tasks at home and work too. You start one thing and jump to the next and then the next.  Here is another video about what that feels like.

If either of these scenarios describe you, don’t feel bad! Recognizing where you are now is the first step to making changes.

James suggests starting a new habit. One day a week only have 1 tab open at a time on your computer. The day even has a name, TabLess Thursday.

He explains when you are committed to single-tasking, it forces you to make value judgements.

Do I want to finish what I am doing?

Or do I want to move on to something else?

When you start this habit on your computer, it helps develop your ability to do it in the rest of your life too.

Here is the video. It is fun and enlightening viewing.

These are my favorite parts:

29 seconds: A description about how difficult it is to be fully present on the internet, and how easy it is to jump from one thing to the next.

2.17: Description of Tabless Thursday in which you commit to having only one tab open at once.

Are you inspired now to try single-tasking? Leave a message in the comment section below!



  1. Vanessa says:

    I just saw one of your YouTube videos, and panicked when I saw that it was 2 years old. Then whew! You are here. I’m a 58 year old Cancer survivor, who was recently told I have ADHD. It certainly explained a lot! However! I can’t take the recommended meds, and seems since I know about it, it’s gotten worse. I’m so glad I found you! I need all the “hacks” I can get!

  2. Rod Ruggiero says:

    Multi-tasking is terrible for you…
    “For men, multitasking can drop IQ as much as 15 points, essentially turning you into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old.”
    From this article:

  3. Sheila says:

    I haven’t read (yet) beyond the bit for how many tabs/web pages I have open. That halted me in my tracks! About 6+ on the laptop, 7 on my iPad Google (including this one) and another 7 on Safari. Since I am on my second glass of wine while reading this I will stop to enjoy the wine, eat my dinner (and try to put this away), and give it proper attention tomorrow. But I can tell it deserves attention. I’ll report back….

    • Sheila says:

      Fascinating. I have been working hard to manage my time (and tasks) better, but conveniently ignored my habit of opening tabs, starting to read the content and then either saying I don’t have time to finish that now, or just feeling I need to pay more attention – later. Which is really just another form of clutter. I closed about 6 or 7 tabs on the iPad straight away once I realised I was probably never going to get to them. Now I can see I am just avoiding adding the book on that Amazon page to my Do Sometime list, but it continues to be mental clutter every time I see the open tab. So tabless Thursday (or whenever) would force real discipline in another area. Fingers crossed.

  4. Great article, Jacquie.

    I have to be doing lots of things at once to stay awake! Knitting and watching TV. Knitting and reading. Driving and singing. And so many tabs open on the computer that I run out of room for more tabs!

    I seem to have developed a low boredom threshold and can nod off at the drop of a hat. The only time I can do single tasking is when I am making chocolate! Now that really grabs my attention 🙂

    Lots of love from Leicester

  5. Darcey says:

    I do this sometimes. I have sticky notes on laptop so that helps me. I can do screen shots so that helps me.

  6. Caleb says:

    I am this exact way. I used to do the 10-tab thing when I was very young. As I got older I developed a passion for knowledge, and would try to do this with Wikipedia articles, news posts, and websites such as this one. I did quickly realize that my mind would compensate for my ADHD by becoming obssessed with one idea for a long time. This mechanism makes me great at learning anything I take an interest in, but once it starts, I can’t turn it off. I actually suffer from insomnia because my mind simply cannot shut down while in that state. The only way I can really turn it off even slightly is by switching the obssession to something less engaging, which is hard for me because every little thing will become extremely engaging. Anyway when I do this I keep from 3-6 tabs open, and when the obsession starts stressing me out, I switch tabs.

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