We’ve all been guilty of it: sending emails during a meeting, texting while at the dinner table, even working while chatting on the phone. In today’s hyper-connected world, doing just one thing at a time seems like a waste. After all, who among us hasn’t mastered the art of doing multiple things at once?
But multitasking your way through the day isn’t doing you any favors. In fact, research shows that doing more than one thing at a time isn’t nearly as efficient as we’ve been led to believe.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t save you time or increase your productivity. In fact, it can do just the opposite!
Multitasking is not a skill to add to the resume, but rather a bad habit that decreases productivity.
Why Multitasking is a Myth:
While we are capable of doing two things at once, such as watching TV while cooking dinner, it is impossible to concentrate on two tasks at once. While the brain struggles to process more than one activity at a time, it is extremely good at rapidly switching from one task to another. What we call “multitasking” is really just task-switching. When we “multitask” what we are really doing is shifting our attention rapidly from one thing to the next. This lull between the switch is actually wasting productive time because our brain power and attention is expended on the act of switching gears. Switching gears rapidly creates a disruption in performance.
1. Multitasking is distracting
Have you ever been texting with one person while talking to another? We’ve all done it and chances are you’ve missed key elements of a conversation because your attention was on your phone. The simple truth is: we can’t carry on more than one conversation at a time, because the second conversation will distract you from the first.
Multitasking between projects is rather like trying to have two conversations at once. Switching from the first task to the second breaks your concentration. This requires you to come back, find where you left off and try to recreate the thought pattern you were in when you started.
2. Multitasking slows you down
Multitasking doesn’t save time. In fact, it will most likely take you more time to finish tasks when you are switching back and forth between them than if you focused on each of them separately.
Instead of trying to multitask your projects, try batching them. Each task that you undertake requires a specific mindset, when you group like projects together (such as answering all your emails or returning all your phone calls at the same time) it allows you to get into a groove and stay there until the projects are finished.
3. Multitasking breeds mistakes
Because your focus is split, multitasking can cause you to introduce errors into whatever you are working on. Interrupting one task to suddenly focus on another can lead to missing important details of one or both tasks. In fact, when we multitask, we tend to hurry up and skim through tasks in order to get more things done. This leads to a dramatic drop in quality and efficiency, leading to a higher chance of mistakes. And fixing mistakes takes time.
When you are multitasking, you aren’t giving your current task 100% of your attention because in the back of your mind, you’ll still focused on the other task that was just at hand. Therefore you never truly get in the zone for either task.
4. Multitasking kills creativity
Multitasking causes your focus to bounce around from one thing to another, creating an attentional frenzy. You’re focused here, now over there, back over here, then off over there. Squirrel!
When you are working on multiple things at once, the goal is often to get as much done as quickly as possible. When you are focused on speed and the end result, the emphasis is not on creativity.
Creativity can’t prosper in mental busyness, it needs peace and quiet and time for contemplation. Want to be more creative? Don’t add to your task list, instead step away from it. Your best ideas and insights will come when you are detached from your everyday routine. Jim Henson would go for walks and sit under a tree for hours to dream. Allow yourself time to be a dreamer!
5. Multitasking is bad for your health
Not only can multitasking decrease the quality of your work, it can decrease the quality of your life. Multitasking, and the frequent disruption caused by it, can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health. When demands exceed our abilities, stress and anxiety are bound to follow. Over time, this stress and anxiety can lead to physical fatigue and mental exhaustion which causes a decline in productivity and our passion for work.
Want to accomplish more and reduce multitasking?
Work without distraction. When it’s time to get down to the task at hand, shut everything else out. Silence your phone, get off Facebook, close your door and give your current project 100% of your attention.
Take regular breaks. When you notice your brain starting to get tired and look for distractions, step away for a moment. Take a quick walk, look out the window, close your eyes and breath deep. A small break, even as little as 2-5 minutes, will help refresh your brain and refocus your attention. Just don’t start another task! Remember, a break means stepping away, not switching gears.
Make a to-do list. Keep of list of everything you need to accomplish today so that you can stay on track. Record your top priorities to ensure that your most important tasks get done.
Batch your tasks. Group like-minded tasks together to increase your productivity. Let your mind get into the zone and you’ll find that you’ll be able to complete tasks quickly without sacrificing quality.
Mindfulness teaches us that being in the moment and focusing on the task at hand is the key to being more productive. Take your time, be a single-task thinker and allow room for your best work and ideas to blossom.
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