Multitasking is a term that became common usage in the early ’70s when referring to computer operations. It’s also a term that has been used to describe some of the work of modern humans.
For instance, if you are talking on the telephone, listening to the radio, and driving all at the same time, you are multitasking. Multitasking is usually an irregular mix of activities that can lead to unfavorable outcomes.
Multitasking is Actually Bad
While the name itself looks appealing, i.e working on multiple tasks all at the same time, multitasking in the modern-day work atmospheres is something highly unappreciated. The simple reason behind this is how it affects the quality of work.
1. Decreases The Quality of Work/Productivity
Even though multitasking itself is a helpful technique that can be used in the right proportions, it has been observed that most of the employees are getting carried away with it. And the result is, neither is their work quality improving nor are their work productivity levels rising. This is mainly because our brain is fine-tuned for monotasking. We can’t give equal focus and attention to two things at the same time.
Research has found that multitasking can hurt productivity. Also, “Mindless” multitasking means you are more likely to make a mistake, are less efficient, and are less productive.
2. Decreases Energy Levels, Increases The Probability of a Mistake
According to a study conduction by Stanford University, when you try to do multiple things at a time, your brain switches back and forth between tasks, which not only lessens productivity but it also takes a huge toll on your brain. This continual switching makes you feel more stressed, run low on energy, and you are more likely to make a costly mistake.
3. Multitasking Adversely Affects Your Brain
In the study by Stanford University, “Multitasking is associated with reduced activation in brain regions associated with memory, task management, and self-control.”
The study also found that the brain areas that are affected by multitasking include the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for attention, focus, and short-term memory. The hippocampus is responsible for long-term memory.
4. Multitasking Creates False Sense of Progress
Multitasking can also be very deceiving. Even though you may be doing multiple things at a time, you are not really accomplishing much at all. For example, even though you may be talking on the phone while searching for your keys, you are not actually finding your keys, and you are not really on the phone either.
The biggest problem with multitasking is that it creates a false sense of progress. Since we think we are doing several things at once, we believe we are actually being productive, when in fact either we are doing none of the things properly, or at least messing up one of them.
When to Multitask?
While multitasking is generally unwelcomed, it is true that there are times when it can actually be beneficial. However, it is important to know when to multitask. Here are the 5 times when multitasking can beat monotasking.
1. When You Are Stuck and Brainstorming
If you’re brainstorming, it can be useful to multitask. When you are stuck in a task, it’s actually great to get some relief by doing other simple, easy tasks side by side.
For instance, if you’re having a hard time coming up with an idea, it can help to put on a podcast or audiobook and listen while you work.
2. When It’s Difficult to Maintain Focus on Your Current Task
When you’re working on a project that requires a lot of attention, multi-tasking is more likely to be a distraction than a useful tool. But if you’re doing something that’s difficult or tedious and it’s difficult for you to maintain focus, it can be helpful to multitask. For instance, listening to music or an audiobook besides the exhausting work can actually help. This can improve your mood and help you feel more motivated to keep working.
3. When Something is Boring As a Monotask
There are certain activities that are extremely beneficial but are generally considered boring. For example, spending half an hour exercising is something that is great for your physical and mental health. In spite of knowing the benefits, most of us prefer not to work out.
When you toy such activities with other things that you love doing, you actually enjoy doing them and end up completing both the tasks. For instance, exercising while you are cooking won’t cost any extra time.
4. When a Task Doesn’t Require too Much Focus
If you’re multitasking while performing a task that requires a lot of focus, you’re likely to get distracted, which will end up making you susceptible to errors. On the other hand, if your current task doesn’t require too much focus, and attention, it’s a great idea to multitask.
This will help you do more work in less time. For instance, if you are out on a walk, you don’t need to focus on your steps. You can make a call with a client and enjoy your walk at the same time.
5. When You Have More Work Than Time
Whether you like it or not, multitasking is sometimes the only option. For instance, If you’re trying to finish a presentation that’s due tomorrow, and you have a ton of other work to do, it won’t be as productive to focus on that presentation alone. Instead, you should use other tasks as a way to procrastinate on the one you’re trying to complete.
So, what do you think? Does multitasking always work well for you? We would love to hear about your experience with multitasking.
When Not to Multitask?
As we said earlier, multitasking generally is discouraged. There are instances when you should completely avoid doing multiple tasks at one time.
1. You Are Working on A Mission Critical Task
Multitasking actually has a dark side, research shows. It might be fine for low-level tasks that require minimal attention, but when you’re working on hard, complex, or sensitive tasks, multitasking can make you less efficient and effective.
So, while it might be tempting to check your email while you’re in a meeting, it’s important to be hyper-vigilant about not letting your attention drift when you’re working on mission-critical tasks. Wasting a few minutes checking your inbox in the middle of a meeting probably won’t do much harm—but if you do it over and over again, it’ll start to hurt your productivity and your work quality.
2. When Your Attention Makes All The Difference
If you’re working on a task that requires your full attention, you should just wait until you’re done with your task and then go ahead and do the other one.
Doing two things at once requires you to use your attention and working memory. If you’re doing a project that requires all of your attention, you will be more effective if you wait until you’re done with it to do other tasks.
3. When There’s a High Chance of Interruption
If you’re working on a task, make sure you can devote your full attention to it. When you’re doing something that will require your full attention, make sure you have time set aside to work on it uninterrupted.
If you’re working with other people, make sure you have them on hand to help you if you get stuck or need information. If you’re working on something that requires a lot of effort and concentration, stop multitasking when you know there’s a high chance of interruption.
4. When You’re Working on a Task with a Deadline
When you’re working on a task with a deadline, make sure you block out time for it—and then stick to that schedule. If you’re working on something that can’t be moved, make sure you set aside time for it so you can give it your full attention.
And if you fall behind or there are delays, make sure you communicate with others about it. When you’re working on a deadline, don’t let yourself or others waste time on tasks that aren’t urgent.
5. When Work Quality is Of Utmost Importance
While multitasking can boost the quantity of your output, it usually doesn’t do much for quality. In fact, research shows that the quality of your output suffers when you multitask.
This is true for all kinds of work, but especially when it comes to creative work like writing and design. When you’re trying to think of a clever joke, for example, or you’re writing a paper, you need to be hyper-focused in order to come up with the best, cleverest, funniest, or most elegant solution. Multitasking can make that impossible.