The ability to multitask is usually viewed as a positive trait, but does it drastically increase productivity? Research indicates that multitasking and seeing positive results is highly unlikely. Despite this research and possibly because of years of integration into our society, multitasking is still seen as a positive thing. I am here to tell you that you have unknowingly been sabotaging everything you do by trying to do everything at the same time!
Multitasking is bad for you!
Simply put, multitasking is awful for just about every aspect of your life. Not just your business life, but your real-world life too. Even if you are doing simple tasks, multitasking is only valuable to a certain extent and even then multitasking almost always fails to improve productivity.
You are not really multitasking. What we all call multitasking would be described more correctly as task-switching according to Guy Winch, Ph.D. He states that “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount.” So whatever you’re working on, takes up most of our brain capacity. There isn’t a lot of room left for other tasks besides automatic behaviors like walking. He also believes that when you switch back and forth from one task to another that you expend a lot of that mental energy on actually switching tasks. Not on doing either of the tasks.
This constant switch can lead to mental overload. If you switch from more familiar tasks to a less familiar or more complex task, your brain needs time to reconfigure to the new harder task. This means a loss in productivity and time as your brain adjusts. You also fill up your thought processes with information, such as progress, of the previous task. Having a simple schedule for each of your tasks and focusing on them one at a time will increase productivity.
Multitasking causes Mistakes
On top of the stress created by trying to do too much, you cause more stress because multitasking leads to mistakes. Even when writing this, because I forgot to turn off the notifications, I found myself distracted by a steady stream of emails. I looked up to find a barrage of misspelled and irrelevant words. Forget the idea of perception, forget the glass being half full. If you spend your day multitasking, you might even be missing the obvious things right in front of you.
Studies have also recently found that being distracted at mealtime is just another time that your body can’t respond properly to what it is doing. Being distracted while eating (because of your phone, or the tv) can prevent your brain from fully processing the food that it is eating. This means you won’t feel as full and may want to keep eating or eat a short time after eating.
Experts recommend, even if you eat alone, turning off the television and truly pay attention to each bite of food. Eat lunch at your computer? Turn that screenJohns Hopkins University off and focus on each bite. Turn your phone on silent and put it away from you whenever you’re eating.
Multitasking Weakens Your Memory
Multitasking is detrimental to your memory. Absentmindedness and memory loss are common among those who multitask on a regular basis. Our brans simply can not handle the number of tasks we want to perform day in and day out. Short term memory loss is common in multitaskers, but long term memory loss is also a possibility.
Texting and Driving
You may think that you can handle texting and driving. However, your brain can’t even handle talking on the phone while driving. There was a recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University that showed people who talk and drive not only scored lower on actual multitasking testing but also were under the illusion that they did much better than they actually did.
Multitasking requires a lot of what is called “working memory”. This is just temporary brain storage and when that working memory is all used up it takes away from our ability to think and work creatively, according to a 2010 study from the Univerisity of Illinois at Chicago. With so much going on in multitaskers’ brains, it is harder to have spontaneous a-ha moments and equally as hard to daydream. If you are an artist by trade, maybe its time to take a step back and daydream a little bit throughout the day.
Multitasking and Gender
We have all heard the thoughts that women are better at multitasking. That may be untrue though. One study demonstrated that women dislike multitasking as much as men do and when given a choice women actually do better generally at not switching tasks. However, when multitasking, both genders performed equally poorly. Even more strange, information from the same study found that even when we choose to multitask, as opposed to having it forced on us at our job, the effect on productivity was still negative.
Who is Multitasking?
One study tried to find a difference in personality type and the perpetuance to multitask. Oddly enough, people who avoid multitasking are inherently better at it. The study found that multitaskers often overestimate their ability and are much less self-critical of their failures. Sometimes these same multitaskers just had shorter attention spans and difficulty focusing on one task at a time.
So, it turns out the negative effect of multitasking is real. However, it is especially problematic because people, like your boss or spouse, don’t realize these negative effects are happening. Interruptions are commonplace in today’s society and it is unfortunate and makes us less productive as we add more tasks to our daily lives. However, I have found some simple advice over the last few weeks has helped me greatly, although I still slip sometimes.
When doing anything that requires more thought than chewing gum, don’t do anything else.
Oh my is it hard at times. When I first started out separating myself from multitasking it felt impossible. However, I try to break my workload into structured half-hour chunks. At work and at home, I shift focus and work on the next thing on my to-do list approximately every half hour to forty-five minutes.
Some people still think of this as multitasking but it’s actually hyper-focused work because I do not do anything else for this half-hour. Put your phone down. Turn off email notifications. Don’t switch tasks at all during that half-hour. Even though there are many different things that are done during my workday, each one stays fresh in my mind and has my total focus. If I don’t get it done in one day, the task still has a lasting idea on my brain for the next day.
Maybe the best part of working in thirty-minute blocks is the motivation I maintain throughout the day. Even when I am working on something I hate, I can manage because of it only being for thirty minutes.
Despite all of the complaints listed in this blog about multitasking, there are some positives. If the tasks are really easy or something that is unconscious to you, there is little downside. Even at other times, multitasking can have a slightly positive effect. Listening to music while working out can lead to a harder workout. Doodling during boring lectures can help you focus. Instrumental music can lead to retaining information during studying.
Multitasking is damaging your productivity. If you run or work for an eCommerce company, then you know how important your time and efficiency are. If you make decisions for workload for others in your company, scale back on multitasking and watch your productivity skyrocket!
Outsourcing some of your tasks could help your business productivity and also help with your team members’ sanity. Reach out today and see how we can help manage your workload.