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Last Updated on February 10, 2021

Is It Possible to Multitask? 12 Reasons Why You May Not Want to

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Is It Possible to Multitask? 12 Reasons Why You May Not Want to

There hasn’t been a busier time in the history of mankind than today’s fast-paced digital world. Every day, we’re constantly barraged by an infinite stream of information, emails, and social media notifications, while trying to keep up with demands from work, family, and friends. Multitasking seems like the norm of everyday life now, but in reality, is it possible to multitask and still do things the right way?

Our response to the overwhelm of trying to handle so many tasks simultaneously has been to do more than one thing at a time. We respond to text messages while completing important projects, send emails while watching TV shows, and scroll through social media feeds while chatting with friends and family.

Is it possible to multitask in this way? Even though it may seem like we’re getting a lot done, multitasking could cost us precious time and energy.

Here are 12 scientific reasons why you should stop multitasking today.

1. It Kills Productivity

Each time we switch from one task to another, there’s a cognitive cost that hurts our productivity.

According to Gloria Mark, professor in the department of informatics at the University of California, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after an interruption.[1]

We’d like to think that it’s possible to juggle multiple tasks at once, but it comes with the cost of reducing the quality and quantity of attention applied to a task.

As a result, your productivity is less than that of someone who focuses on one task at a time.

2. It Could Endanger Your Life

There are certain situations where multitasking may endanger your life.

For example, chatting on the phone while driving or texting whilst crossing a busy road could significantly compromise your ability to maintain safety.[2]

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Multitasking isn’t worth your energy or time, and especially not your life.

3. It Could Damage Your Brain

A study by researchers from the University of Sussex (UK) compared the amount of time people spent on media devices, like texting and watching TV, to their brain structure.[3] The MRI scans of their brains showed that participants who multitasked more often had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain region responsible for empathy and emotional control.

According to the lead researcher, neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh:

“I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”

4. It Could Decrease Intelligence

A study conducted by the University of London found that adult participants who multitasked experienced drops in IQ points to the average range of an 8-year-old child.[4]

Imagine the effects of writing an important paper or email to a client while responding to texts on your phone. There won’t be much difference in the quality of your work and that of an 8-year-old child.

If you’re struggling to deliver high-quality work on a consistent basis, make sure to eliminate distractions in your environment and avoid multitasking. This will help to raise the quality of your work.

5. It Causes Chronic Stress and Anxiety

There are many causes of stress and anxiety, but one of the major culprits is multitasking.

When we constantly switch between tasks, cortisol, a stress hormone, is released in our body. This hormone creates stress, tires us out, and leaves us mentally fatigued.

Then, anxiety builds up, and we act impulsively, which creates more stress. The cycle then repeats itself, creating a constant state of stress and anxiety.

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If you’re already feeling overwhelmed and stressed out while trying to be productive, check out this video for some guidance:

6. It Worsens Decision-Making Skills

Multitasking also hurts your ability to make good decisions. Switching tasks requires that you spend precious energy deciding what to do or what not to do.

For example, if you’re sending important emails to your boss while responding to text messages, you’d have to make decisions immediately:

How do I respond to this email? Should I respond to this text now? Should I take a break from work?

These decisions deplete your willpower muscles and causes decision fatigue, a psychological term referring to the deterioration of good decisions after making a long series of decisions.[5]

In addition, when an important scenario arises for you to practice self-control or delay gratification, you’re more likely to act on impulse, and you won’t have enough willpower to take effective action towards the important things in your life.

In effect, multitasking causes a downward spiral of bad decisions that cost time, energy, and money.

7. It Hurts Learning

A study published in the journal Computers and Education found that, on average, participants who used Facebook while texting and doing schoolwork had a lower GPA and grades than those who didn’t.[6] According to the researchers:

“Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks.”

Quality attention is crucial for learning, but multitasking reduces our ability to focus on the task at hand. As a result of low levels of attention, learning effectively is much harder than otherwise.

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8. It Kills Focus

According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, when you multitask, parts of your brain reward you for losing focus and switching tasks with a rush of dopamine[7]. The same parts of the brain that help you stay focused on a task become trained to look for distractions.

Therefore, when you’re working, you’ll feel anxious to check your email and social media to search for a dopamine rush from something else.

Once multitasking becomes a habit, it becomes very difficult to break the cycle of the dopamine rush linked to lack of focus and low productivity.

If you’ve fallen into the black hole of constant distractions, check out this Lifehack Fast-Track Class to learn how to refocus: Overcoming Distractions

9. It Kills Creativity

Imagine this scenario:

You’re writing an important paper, and an incoming email from a work colleague pops up on your phone. You stop writing and respond to the email.

When you return back to writing, your brain has just spent valuable energy refocusing on the task at hand that could have been used for creative thinking. As a result, not only have you wasted energy, but also creative juice for your work.

Creative thinking requires a good level of concentration and attention. The problem with multitasking is that innovative ideas that crossed your mind could pass you by if you don’t stay focused.

10. It May Reduce Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions, in addition to the emotions of others. In general, emotional intelligence includes core skills, like emotional awareness, the ability to apply emotions to critical thinking and problem solving, and the ability to manage emotions[8].

According to Travis Bradberry, an emotional intelligence expert, multitasking may damage a part of the brain—the anterior cingulate cortex that is responsible for emotional intelligence, a trait found within 90% of top performers.[9]

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Multitasking reduces the speed and quality of work and worsens concentration and attention to detail. Additionally, multitasking in social gatherings may be an indication of low self and social awareness, two crucial emotional intelligence skills for success at work.

11. It Causes Overwhelm and Burnout

Ever wonder why you feel constantly tired, even after a good night of sleep or a long vacation?

The constant switching between tasks requires a lot of attention and energy. When your brain shifts attention from one task to another, the prefrontal cortex of the brain loses oxygenated glucose, which is required for staying focused on tasks[10].

The more tasks you switch between, the more oxygenated glucose your brain burns. After a short period of time, you’ll feel overwhelmed and tired, because of the loss of nutrients in the brain.

12. It Can Harm Memory and Concentration

New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin suggests that multitasking could damage our brains even more so than smoking marijuana[11].

According to Levitin, the main ingredient in marijuana, cannabinol, negatively affects the same receptors in the brain responsible for memory and concentration. And multitasking could cause greater cognitive losses.

Next time you’re about to multitask, think of the similar effects of smoking marijuana. If you wouldn’t use drugs while completing an important task, then why multitask?

Final Thoughts

So, is it possible to multitask and still be productive? According to research, the simple answer is no, as multitasking negatively impacts our productivity across the board. Multitasking is a bad habit that has long-term, harmful effects on your health, well-being, and productivity.

However, there’s hope if you take charge of your life today and decide to pay attention to a single task each time it presents itself.

When working on important tasks, eliminate as many distractions as possible, including your phone, email access, and people. Every day, create time blocks of 10 to 30 minutes for focused work. Take short breaks every two hours to recoup your energy and regain focus.

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Most importantly, do one thing at a time, and you’ll be productive for a lifetime.

More Tips on Multitasking

Featured photo credit: Andreas Strandman via unsplash.com

Reference

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Mayo Oshin

Entrepreneur and write on building habits that stick and improving productivity

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Published on October 22, 2021

The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

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The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

Today, there are countless productivity techniques that claim to help you work at peak efficiency. Among them, few are more widely known and widely used than the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management system that suggests that you break down your work tasks into 25-minute chunks and take breaks in between them.

The idea revolves around the notion that most people begin to lose focus after 25 minutes of continuous work and will need a reset to remain productive. But there’s a problem with that idea: no two tasks are the same. And for that matter, neither are any two people! That means a one-size-fits-all productivity system can’t possibly be the best fit for everyone.

But there’s an alternative that provides more flexibility and allows you to customize it for your specific use cases. It’s called the Flowtime Technique, and here’s everything you need to know to use it and start getting more done.

What Is the Flowtime Technique?

The Flowtime Technique, while not as well-known as the Pomodoro Technique, has been around for some time. In many ways, it’s a direct descendent of Pomodoro. It’s the brainchild of Zoe Read-Bivens, and she thought it up as a means of dealing with some of the shortcomings she experienced while using the Pomodoro technique.[1]

She found that sticking to 25-minute work segments often interrupted her flow—the feeling of being immersed in a particular task—and ended up harming her productivity rather than enhancing it. To fix the problem, she sought to create a system that retained the beneficial aspects of the Pomodoro Technique while allowing her to get into a positive flow and stay there.

The Basics of the Flowtime Technique

To start using the Flowtime Technique, the first thing you’ll need to do is create a timesheet to help you manage your daily activities. You can do this with a spreadsheet or by hand, whichever you find most convenient. At the heading of your timesheet, include the following column headings:

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  • Task Name
  • Start Time
  • End Time
  • Interruptions
  • Work Time
  • Break Time

Your timesheet will be the primary way you track your daily tasks and establish a flow that works best for you. Once you have it set up, here’s how to use it:

1. Choose a Task

To get started, choose a task you wish to get done. It should be specific, and something you can reasonably complete in the amount of time you have. In other words, don’t choose a task like “paint my house.” Choose something like “paint the front door of my house.” If you select a task that’s too broad, you’ll have difficulty sticking with the work. So, try and break down what you’re doing into the smallest manageable pieces.

2. Begin Working on Your Task

The next step is to start working on your task. Begin by listing the task you’re going to work on in the appropriate field of your timesheet. Then, list the time you’re starting work. Once you’ve gotten started on your task, the only rule you must observe is that there is no multitasking allowed. This will help you to focus on what you need to get done and minimize any self-imposed distractions.

3. Work Until You Need a Break

You may then keep working on your listed task for as long as you like. If you feel yourself getting fatigued after 15 minutes, take a break. If you get into a productive groove, lose track of the time, and end up working for an hour straight, that’s fine, too.

The idea is to get to know your own patterns and work in segments that fit you best. If you don’t focus well on certain tasks, work on them for shorter durations. If you get absorbed in other types of tasks, maximize your output by working for as long as you feel capable of staying focused.

You’ll likely find that the longest period you’ll be able to sustain is around 90 minutes or so. This corresponds to your Ultradian Rhythm, which are the alternating periods of alertness and rest that our brains experience throughout the day.[2]

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There are plenty of case studies that demonstrate how taking regular breaks improves productivity. It’s one of the reasons that mandatory breaks are a part of the Pomodoro Technique. But there’s evidence that the less-structured Flowtime approach to breaks works just as well. One technology company that recently directed its employees to take breaks every hour as they saw fit saw productivity levels rise by 23%—with no mandate required.[3]

4. Take an Appropriate-Length Break

When you decide you need to take a break, go ahead and do so. Just make sure to write down your stop time on your timesheet in the right place. You can take a break that’s as long or short as you like, but don’t abuse the privilege. Otherwise, it won’t be long until your breaks eat up the majority of your time.

As a general rule of thumb, try taking a five-minute break for each 25-minute work period, and increase your break time proportionally for longer work periods. You should use a timer to make sure you get back to your task in the right amount of time. And when your break ends, don’t forget to record the time you’ve resumed work and list the length of the break you took.

5. Record Distractions as They Happen

While you’re working, there are always going to be times when you’ll get distracted. It may come in the form of a phone call, an urgent email, or even the urge to use the bathroom. When these things happen, record the occurrence in the interruption column on your timesheet. Do your best to keep distractions short, but don’t try and block them out.

The reason is that you’re unlikely to succeed and sometimes, the things that distract you will be a higher priority than what you’re working on. So, it’s important to deal with distractions as you see fit instead of trying to simply work through them.

6. Repeat Until Your Work Is Complete

All you have to do next is to repeat the steps above until the tasks you’re working on are complete. As you complete each task, be sure to record your final stop time. If you wish, you can calculate your total work time (and fill it in) when you finish a task, or you can do all of the math at once at the end of the day.

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All that matters is that you don’t leave any gaps in your time tracking. Your timesheets, once complete, will become an asset that improves your ability to create a work schedule that maximizes your daily output.

What to Do With Your Timesheets

Although the act of recording your work periods and break times will help you remain on-task each day, there’s another important reason you’re doing it. It’s that your timesheets will gradually begin to reveal to you how to craft an ideal daily schedule for yourself.

So, at the end of each week, take some time to compare your timesheets. You may see that certain patterns begin to emerge. For example, you might notice that your longest work periods typically occur before lunch or that there are specific parts of your day that tend to be filled with distractions. You can use this information to plan subsequent days more effectively.

In general, you’ll want to cluster your most important tasks at your most productive times. So, if you are reviewing detailed property records, for example, you can set aside time to do it when you know you’ll be able to focus without interruption.

Conversely, you should schedule less critical work at the times when you’re most likely to be interrupted while working. So if you need time to respond to emails or return phone calls, you’ll know just when to do it. This will not only make you more productive but will also eliminate mistakes in your work.

Key Similarities Between Flowtime and Pomodoro

If you’re familiar with how the Pomodoro Technique works, you may have noticed some similarities with the Flowtime Technique. As we’ve discussed earlier, this is intentional. The Flowtime Technique is specifically designed to retain three critical features of the Pomodoro Technique, which are:

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1. Precise Time Tracking

One of the reasons that the Pomodoro Technique is so effective for many people is that it creates a rigid system to facilitate time tracking. By having to split your work tasks into 25-minute segments, you become acutely aware of the tasks you have in front of you and how you’re using your time. That alone helps you to avoid wasting precious work time because you have to account for every minute. The Flowtime Technique provides this benefit, too.

2. Eliminating Multitasking

With the Pomodoro Technique, you have to choose a task to work on and use a 25-minute timer to measure each work period. This does an excellent job of keeping you on-task because you know from the moment you set the timer what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’re therefore not likely to stray onto another task.

Even though you don’t need to use a timer with the Flowtime Technique, the very act of writing down your task accomplishes the same task. Because you know you’ll be tracking your time spent working on a particular thing, you’ll tend to stick with your task until it’s complete or time for a break.

3. Facilitating Breaks

One of the biggest killers of productivity is exhaustion, and there’s plenty of data to prove that taking breaks is essential to maintaining peak work performance. That’s the real secret to the Pomodoro Technique’s successful reputation—it makes breaks mandatory and unavoidable.

The Flowtime Technique, by comparison, also insists you take breaks. It just doesn’t force them upon you until you’re ready to take one. In that way, some additional self-discipline is required to succeed using the Flowtime Technique. But if you can obey a timer, there’s no reason you can’t learn to obey the signals your body sends you when it needs a time out.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, you may find success using the Pomodoro Technique. There’s a reason it’s so popular, after all. But if you’ve been using it for some time and find yourself straining against its rigid structures, you’re not alone. So, consider giving the Flowtime Technique a try for at least a week or two. You may find it’s a much better fit for your work style and that you get even more done than you ever have before.

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Featured photo credit: Fakurian Design via unsplash.com

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