Multitasking has increasingly become a way of life for many of us, as we attempt to juggle multiple things at the same time, be it in our careers or personal lives. Indeed, the ability to multitask is often viewed as a key skill & a basic necessity in order to survive and thrive in a cutthroat corporate world.
But does multitasking solve the problem of dealing with multiple demands in a time constrained environment, or does it actually make the problem worse by reducing overall productivity & increasing stress?
Why multitasking may not always be good for you?
- Multitasking can be inefficient – Multitasking is usually about switching between tasks. It is characterised by frequent interruption and jumping back & forth between tasks without giving full attention to any of them.
Each time we are interrupted in a task, it takes time to get back to where we were, which makes it inefficient. Research suggests that after an interruption (e.g. checking an email or taking a phone call), it takes nearly 25 mins to return to the original task & in many cases, the original task is not resumed immediately after either.
- Multitasking can affect the quality of work or learning – A number of tasks or learning activities require focus & concentration. In such instances, multitasking may affect the quality of output, as there usually isn’t enough focus or attention on each activity, but a need to complete things as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that a person focussed on a single task remembers more of what they have learnt or performed than someone who attempts to multitask.
- Multitasking can increase levels of stress – In a multitasking environment, more often than not, there is always work that is still yet to be completed. A person who is multitasking may therefore not get the satisfaction of achieving/completing something and this could make them feel overwhelmed & stressed, which in turn impacts their effectiveness.
So, what can you do to cope with all of this. I am not about to suggest that we shun multitasking entirely, but in many instances, it would be prudent to set limits on how & when we multitask.
Setting limits on multitasking
- Prioritise tasks and respond appropriately to interruptions. For instance, if you are working on something that is high priority, then make a conscious attempt to avoid interruptions (e.g. checking emails, answering phone calls) during the time you are focussing on that particular task
- Limit interruptions during your working day. If you need to socialise with friends or colleagues, do so during specific breaks in your work. Restrict your online activities including checking personal email or other social communication to self-designated time periods only. Set limits to technology so that you are not constantly interrupted in your work or personal life
- Avoid multitasking during meetings, particularly so if you are attending meetings via phone or online. Actively engage in the meeting you are attending rather than checking your email or catching up on other work whilst dialled in. Respect the person(s) you are interacting with by giving them your undivided attention
- Be aware of your multitasking habits & behaviours and focus on results as opposed to actions. We often tend to get caught up too much with the process & steps, that we fail to see the end goal-posts
- And finally, take some time out of your schedule regularly to focus on yourself. This could be learning a new hobby or skill, or going for a walk for a breath of fresh air, or simply just closing your eyes and decluttering your mind
Note – The inspiration for this post comes from a wonderful article written by Ms.Elizabeth Bakken, which I had recently read. I have been unable to find a link to this article online & I have therefore attempted to summarise this briefly, in the hope this reaches a wider audience.