The Problem with Multitasking

multitasking bad productivityNever before in our history have we been able to get so much done at once. We could be emailing the boss while browsing dinner recipes on Pinterest from the sidelines of our children’s soccer match. Or even updating the company blog while flying to a business conference. As such, it would be easy to view digital device multitasking as purely a boon for productivity. But more and more evidence shows that’s not quite the case.

Why not? The truth is, we really only have one main attentional channel in our brains, so working on more than a single task at once is setting yourself up for a traffic jam. This is all the more so if the tasks at hand are relatively similar in nature. It is one thing, after all, to have a phone conversation while stuffing envelopes (that is, doing a more rote task that doesn’t actually require that much attention) versus doing some accounting while also writing a white paper. The switch requires energy and time. This means people who multitask often wind up taking longer to do both tasks than when they do them separately. And the kicker is the results are usually worse, too.

What’s more, when you’re only using a part of your brain to get the job done, you’re also decreasing your enjoyment and engagement, as you’re muddling your brain’s efforts. Think of this like the difference between that person who is entirely present in the moment, and the more befuddled person who doesn’t feel quite there. Multitasking will put you firmly in the latter camp, and that’s not exactly the kind of mentality that’s bound to win you any creativity or innovation awards at work.

The Solution

Focus on one thing at a time — truly. This means closing out of email when you’re working on a business presentation. Set a schedule at the beginning of every week so you won’t get distracted trying to sneak more in here and there. Furthermore, you’ll always know what you should be up to. Create a comfortable ergonomic workspace so that you can focus on the task at hand, rather than any physical discomfort. Do the tough tasks first thing in the morning when you’ve got the most energy. And definitely, definitely close out of social media apps. Do one thing at a time and you’ll be sure to get more done overall.

For more on this topic, we highly recommend reading How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work).

How do you stay on task at work? Let us know in the comments below.

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