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Last Updated on November 18, 2022

Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

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Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

Want to increase your chances of success? Avoid multitasking. Though multitasking seems excellent in principle, it performs poorly. The capacity to manage multiple projects at once gives you the impression that you are an intelligent worker who completes tasks at breakneck speed.

Still, the reality is often just poor performance and an inability to keep up with everything. It accomplishes the exact opposite of what it was meant to. While multitasking is occasionally seen as valuable, concentrating on one activity at a time may be more effective.

The key to success and productivity is developing your focus muscles and prioritzing with clarity. Keep reading to learn more about the effects of multitasking and simple solutions to include in your routine.

What is Multitasking

The concurrent completion of many tasks is known as multitasking. Multitasking involves managing multiple tasks, switching focus from one task to another, or carrying out two or more jobs concurrently. Here are some instances of multitasking in different fields:

  • Responding to emails while watching TV
  • Accepting several orders on the phone while ringing up a customer
  • Eating while driving
  • Preparing a presentation while listening to a lecture

Several studies show that multitasking reduces comprehension, attention, and overall performance, which reduces productivity.[1]

What precisely does multitasking do to productivity? Although it may appear that you are working on several tasks at once, you quickly switch your focus and attention from one job to the next. Switching between functions may make it challenging to shut out distractions and result in mental barriers that will slow you down.

Why Do We Think Multitasking is Beneficial?

We believe multitasking is advantageous because it is a part of our everyday routine—we work, do chores, drop the kids off to school, and so on. Neuroscientists claim that our brains are not designed to perform multiple tasks at once.

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin claims that multitasking is hard on the brain and uses up valuable energy. When the brain shifts from one task to another, it causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose. This is the same fuel that is needed to help stay on task.[2]

Additionally, when we attempt to multitask, we harm our brains in methods that have a severe impact on our health, cognitive function, and productivity. We get a strong illusion of productivity from it.

In so many job postings, businesses specify that candidates must be adept at multitasking. They might believe that they need personnel who can react fast to any situation that arises. This might be advantageous occasionally.

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However, if you’re continually interrupting people or pushing them to concentrate on two tasks at once, you won’t get the productivity or innovation you desire from your staff.

How Does Multitasking Affect Productivity?

According to research, multitasking has a considerable negative influence on the standard of care. Your brain operates less efficiently and effectively when you multitask, which affects your productivity. Multitaskers’ productivity can decrease by as much as 40%.[3]

Multitasking will severely hurt the quality of your job and even lowers employee productivity, lengthens project timelines, and increases anxiety because you can’t do everything on time.

5 Effects of Multitasking

There are multiple effects of multitasking. The following are a few typical side effects:

1. Memory Issues May Be Caused by Multitasking

The human working memory is the primary cognitive resource that must be divided among concurrent tasks. According to one study, multitaskers struggle with memorization and long-term memory. Recent research has found that those who multitask do poorly on simple memory tests.[4]

2. Multitasking Affects Work Quality

A multitasking worker will likely make errors more frequently and produce lower-quality work.

It takes time for employees to transfer from one duty to another, negatively impacting the caliber of their work. It has been suggested that multitasking reduces overall efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Multitasking is Mentally Challenging

Having several tasks going at once can make you more stressed. The brain becomes overworked while trying to focus on multiple things at once.

Tasks take more time to complete when the brain is forced to move between them more frequently. You are now experiencing additional stress because the identical chores will take longer than usual. Multitasking anxiety affects workplace efficiency, especially in small organizations with few employees.

Multitasking not only increases our stress levels, but it can also raise our risk of social anxiety and depression, as well as lead to memory issues in the long run.

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4. Multitasking Decreases Originality and Creativity

When you multitask, you slow down your thinking and learning processes. The capacity to multitask may hinder one’s ability to be innovative and be creative.

Concentration is the key to new thinking, yet if you multitask, you can only conceive of something fresh if you’re constantly switching and reversing.

5. Multitasking Reduces Emotional Intelligence and IQ

Empathy researchers at educational institutions worldwide have discovered that multitaskers have lower IQs and less empathy (the capacity to feel another person’s pain) than non-multitaskers.

A study conducted by the University of London showed that some participants had their IQ drop 15 points, which left them with an average IQ of an 8-year-old.[5]

Domino Effects of Multitasking

What is the domino effect of multitasking? What impact does this have on other facets of our lives? Human brains, however, can depend on the adrenaline rush that comes with switching professions and becoming diverted, just like the effects of a narcotic.

It’s important to note that when we multitask, our attention may be scattered. As a result, sometimes partners may feel ignored if we’re on our phones in the middle of a conversation, and a child may feel neglected if we’re multitasking in the kitchen.

How to Develop Your Focus Muscle

So, it’s time to “work out” your concentration muscle. Time management enables you to concentrate on what is necessary. Organization, alignment, productivity, goals, timing, and crossing items off your to-do list are all in time management.

How often have you started working on something just to be distracted by a phone notification or a visitor entering your office? In an environment where there are so many distractions, it might be challenging to concentrate.

Here are four ways to help you develop your focus muscles.

1. Build Your Monotasking Muscle

Monotasking means giving one thing your full attention at a time. In today’s society, monotasking is more complex than it appears because we have more options.

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Our extensive to-do lists, technological advancements, and even our minds are continually luring us to multitask. The practice of focusing on one task at a time is known as monotasking. It’s also referred to as single-tasking by certain folks.

Monotasking is healthier for us and increases productivity. To make this a habit, we must retrain our minds. You can better control your attention when you actively try to bring a straying thought into focus. Your frontal lobe has more control over the limbic system and trains your muscles to make some tasks feel automatic. You have more vital emotional discipline, better focus, or improved memory.[6]

Simple Techniques to Hone Your Monotasking Skills

1. Limit Your Computer Tabs

How often does your computer monitor have fifteen or more windows active at once? We often switch from tab to tab and task to task, which can break out focus.

Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

Action Item

1 Action
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
Keep just one tab or one window open at all times. Close any tabs that don’t relate to the task at hand. After the end of each day, close your entire browser so you can have a fresh start the next day.
2. Make Mindfulness a Routine

There are many benefits to mindfulness, including productivity. Mindfulness can also help to reduce stress, provide a better quality of sleep, and even helps your plan more effectively.

Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

Action Item

1 Action
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
Start a mindfulness journal. This journal can help you understand yourself better and focus on areas where you would like to set better boundaries. This can look like phones being put away during dinner or incorporating mini breaks throughout your work day.
3. Disable Notifications

Do you know how often the average person checks their phone daily—150 times?[7] When you hear the notification sound, you instantly want to see what’s happening, but as you scroll, your attention is entirely diverted.

Although simply disabling the notifications won’t prevent you from checking your phone at random times of the day, it will surely assist you in lowering the frequency with which you do so.

Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

Action Item

1 Action
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
Utilize the Do Not Disturb mode on your phone or use focus apps to help you achieve deep focus. 

2. Prioritize with Clarity

Every day, we make decisions multiple times, perhaps without even realizing it. However, you frequently have to make crucial choices. The Superstructure Method is a great way to help you prioritize with clarity. Using the Superstructure Method, you’ll be able to:

  • Refocus on what is most crucial, also known as prioritizing
  • Save time
  • Establish and improve clarity
  • Make better decisions with a more reliable and systematic method will enhance your overall quality of life

We start by being clear on our goal. Afterward, we categorize the responsibilities and opportunities into three groups:

  1. Must-haves – Absolutely critical to achieving the objective. Without it, the result we want is meaningless.
  2. Should-haves – Important but not critical. However, leaving it out may lessen the quality of the final result.
  3. Good to haves – Having it is nice, but not including it won’t have any negative impact on our objective.
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

The Superstructure Method

Example: Starting a Business
3 Actions
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
First, set out by laying a clear goal that you wish to launch your business in ___ months.
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
Now, determine what must be done to achieve your goal. You can jot down all the options: market research, creating a business plan, creating products, etc.
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
The next step is to bifurcate your options into “must haves” (a computer to do work, a space in your home to craft and create), “should haves” (software to make tracking expenses easier or help with social media management), and “good to haves” (new camera to take photos, a designated private office)

Sort every possibility that has been exhaustively listed into one of the three superstructure categories.

3. Manage Your Mental Energy

Both personally and professionally, burnout has a detrimental impact on productivity. It accomplishes this by lowering our motivation,  attention span, staff output, and retention, which affects the productivity of the entire organization.

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In his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel Levitin explains the decision curve. “Our brains are programmed to make a particular number of decisions every day, and once we reach that limit, we can’t make any more, irrespective of how essential they are.” This is also commonly known as decision fatigue.

To increase your productivity at work, control your mental energy.

Business leaders are productive at work because they take the following actions.

  • Get lots of sleep.
  • Workout.
  • Work wisely.
  • Frequently pause
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

Action Item

1 Action
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
Finish Your Most Dreaded Task. The best time to tackle this is the first thing in the morning when your mind is the freshest. The remainder of your day will be much more enjoyable once it is finished because the most challenging part is over.

4. Practice Mindfulness & Awareness

There are a few “multitasking” activities that can be beneficial, such as listening to a meditation while doing the dishes or focusing on the sound of the running water; this calms your mind and keeps you delightfully engaged in those activities while preventing boredom.

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is a state of being, while meditation is an activity.

Even though it may not seem like checking your phone first thing each morning has any connection to multitasking, it greatly reduces productivity.

Entrepreneur, NuttZo’s creator and president, Danielle Dietz-LiVolsi, advises against checking your phone or email just after waking up. He suggests giving yourself at least an hour before acting so that you don’t act in a “reactive” manner immediately.

Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead

Action Item

1 Action
Why Multitasking is Counterproductive and What to Do Instead
Incorporate a Morning Meditation. Start your day off with a meditation practice that calls to you. Morning walking meditations combine movement and mindfulness while breathing meditations focus on energy and attention.

Final Thoughts

You cannot expect your brain to remain alert when working from morning to night. You must frequently stop to refuel and sharpen your focus. Without pauses, you risk having a distracted mind that makes you multitask.

Scientists have established that breaks allow the human brain to function at its best. This advice will also assist you in sharpening your attention while working.

Multitasking should be the one ability you leave off of your resume. You’ll be amazed by how much your productivity increases if you learn how to stop multitasking and improve at working on one thing at a time.

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Featured photo credit: Javier Quesada via unsplash.com


[1] Springer Link: Multitasking
[2] Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute Standform University: Why the modern world is bad for your brain
[3] American Psychology Association: Multitasking: Switching costs
[4] American Academy of Pediatrics: Media Multitasking and Cognitive, Psychological, Neural, and Learning Difference
[5] UCL:Integrating knowledge of multitasking and interruptions across different perspectives and research methods
[6] The Science of Psychotherapy: Prefrontal Cortex
[7] Time.com: Americans Check Their Phones 8 Billion Times a Day

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