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Why Multitasking is Bad for You

Why Multitasking is Bad for You
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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.

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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 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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