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.
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?
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.
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.
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?