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Why Multitasking is Bad for You

Why Multitasking is Bad for You

Multitasking: employers love it, women are supposed to be naturals at it, and overall, it is seen to be a quality most of us would love to acquire. But is being good at multitasking really something to aspire to, and is multitasking bad for productivity in the long run?

What exactly do I mean by multitasking?

Is it literally doing multiple things at once? Or is it more like task switching; spending a certain amount of time doing one thing and then moving onto the next despite not finishing the first thing? No one seems to be totally sure, yet many of us believe that doing a lot of things simultaneously is a positive trait.

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Are multitaskers better at integrating information?

After doing a fair bit of research on the subject, opinions seem to be mixed. Researchers Kelvin Lui and Alan Wong at the Chinese University of Hong Kong came to the conclusion that people who multitask or those who frequently use lots of different media at once, are better at integrating information.

This makes sense, but what about the quality of the work? Are certain things easier to do whilst multitasking? Surely, sometimes, good solid focus and concentration is what’s needed. If you’re doing multiple activities and tasks at once, you might be better in the long run at integrating information, but will the quality of the work you produce be as good as it could have been if you’d given each task your full focus?

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Why is multitasking seen as a positive trait?

Admittedly, in the past I’ve been a serial multitasker. It’s satisfying being able to do lots of things all at once—it makes you feel productive and efficient, but in reality, I’m sure the quality of what I was doing was compromised.

Researcher Zhen Wang proves my point: after completing an extensive study with students, she came to the conclusion that people who multitask are not necessarily being more productive. In reality, the participants who had to do multiple things at once felt good about themselves, but the results of the tasks they had to complete were no where near as good as the non-multitaskers.

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Productivity and effective prioritising over multitasking

Rather than being a good multitasker, I think it would be far more beneficial to be good at prioritising and productivity. These are the traits employers should be looking for. Talking on the phone whilst writing a blog post and attempting to pay your electricity bill at the same shouldn’t be seen as impressive. In the long run, if you carried on multitasking like this, you’d wear yourself out.

I used to do it with emails—I’d feel really productive and efficient if I’d reply within seconds of receiving the message—but it’s just an unnecessary distraction.

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Focused productivity over jumbled multitasking

Rather than multitasking, I now break my time into chunks. After all if you like variety, sometimes it can be boring to do just one thing at a time. But, if you spend 20-40 minutes on each task/ activity/ item on your “to do” list, then you’re being productive, efficient, and you’ll probably make your day more interesting and varied.

On a final note, I would have to say that when I’m focusing intently on something with no distractions or task switching, the work I do is of a much better standard. Meditation and mindfulness teach us this: being focused and present on the task at hand is the key to being more productive.

What are your thoughts? Are you in favour of multitasking? Have you learned to make it work for you or does it lower the quality of the work you do? From your own experiences, do you perform better when you’ve got a lot on your plate? Or does the idea of multitasking make your head spin?

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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