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Last Updated on November 5, 2017

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 September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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