Multitasking and time management are huge topics right now in the productivity world, and for good reason. The ability to juggle multiple tasks is a skill that employers always ask about, and the secret sauce that all successful people seem to have, right? While on the surface multitasking can seem like this magical ability that opens up so many doors and creates so much free time in your life, there are all those negative effects of multitasking people talk about too.
So, is multitasking good? Or is it just something people think is helping them reach success when it's really holding them back? Because of its popularity, I did a little digging on the topic, which left me with so many questions! Questions like: what is multitasking really, is multitasking possible or am I just looking for the holy grail of productivity, and are these so-called negative effects of multitasking really all that bad?
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How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Multitasking
What is Multitasking?
I'm sure we're all familiar with the word multitasking and how it's used so I won’t spend much time on the definition. Put simply, multitasking is to perform two or more tasks simultaneously (or at the same time).
Before we get too far, it's important to make one important distinction when it comes to multitasking. Both the word and the definition have the word “task” in them to describe what is being done at the same time, and tasks are not necessarily actions.
Some might argue that exercising requires many actions which means it is an example of multitasking. It's important to recognize that although exercising requires many actions it's still just one task. Therefore, multitasking would be trying to exercise and read at the same time (which I use later in the post as one of my examples of multitasking), not just exercising. It's trying to create two different results at the same time; not combining actions that lead to the same product.
Is Multitasking Possible?
Now that I've gone over what multitasking is, let’s talk about whether or not we can even do it. Did you know that multitasking was originally a term referring to computers? Seriously, google it. All the definitions give the meaning related to computers BEFORE they give the meaning for people.
(Isn't it interesting that the obsession with being able to do multiple things at once came from us trying to compete with the productivity of machines? As if we compared ourselves to them and were left feeling inferior to something we created ourselves….but that's probably a different topic altogether! Just food for thought.)
So! If multitasking was originally intended for the actions of computers, is multitasking possible for people? The simple answer is, no. If texting and walking have taught us anything, it's that working on two things at the same time is very different from actually doing two things at the exact same time. Our brains just aren't wired for that type of multitasking. Instead, they jump back and forth, shifting focus so that each task gets enough attention to maintain itself without falling apart.
It's this constant bouncing back and forth between two (or more) tasks that leads to the negative effects of multitasking we hear so much about.
The Negative Effects of Multitasking
We're all probably familiar with the new craze going around about avoiding the negative effects of multitasking and the push towards monotasking. But honestly, how are we supposed to give up multitasking? It's almost a part of everything we do nowadays, right? Which leaves us wondering is multitasking bad or is this another one of those things that will die down in a few months? The truth is there are negative effects to multitasking, and it's important to understand the effects of them.
A few of the negative effects of multitasking are:
- It makes us less efficient because we waste time refocusing on each task as we bounce back and forth.
- It makes us easily distracted because we feel like we should always be working on multiple things at once.
- We're less likely to retain information because we don't remember as much about tasks we aren’t paying enough attention to.
- It distracts us from finding joy in the moments because all we have the attention for is getting through the task.
- Mistakes are more likely to happen when our attention is divided.
- Creativity decreases because we are no longer inspired while we work.
- We lose focus more quickly because our minds create a habit of bouncing back and forth.
- We're less likely to improve on the tasks because we aren't able to actually focus on the process.
Why Is Multitasking So Popular Then?
Partly because it gives people more checks on their to-do lists so there's more to show for their effort, but also because it gives us that accomplishment high we're all after. You know the one…..where you do that happy dance at the end of the day because you finally finished one thing you'd been trying to get to for weeks!
I mean let's face it, we've probably all been there. We all know how easy it is to try and juggle multiple things at once in order to get to everything we need to do in a day. And for a lot of us, it probably has worked (at least some of the time). It may have been because we had two deadlines due at the same time, or because of the demands of work creeping into home life (I'm talking to all you work at home moms!). Whatever the reason, we've all done it. And we survived! So, is multitasking bad? Do we really need to stop doing it entirely?
Should We Be Multitasking?
Is longing to improve your multitasking skills a case of the grass is greener? Where it looks shiny and new from a distance, but once you get up close, the negative effects of multitasking start to rear their ugly face? Is multitasking good for getting to all those tasks on the to-do list? Or, is multitasking bad for anyone trying to spend their time in the most productive way possible? Are we supposed to multitask, or aren't we?
I'd argue the answer's both! If you've ever seen the movie Radio, you may remember the scene where he was asked which pie he'd like. Out of the blue, he said “both”, and left everyone (including the audience) surprised and amused. (If you haven't seen the movie – WATCH IT!) Isn't that the answer we all want to give but never expect as an option? We get caught up in an all-or-nothing mindset that keeps us from finding balance because we expect things to be all one way or the other. But that's such a limiting belief!
Why can't we have it both ways? I've honed my multitasking skills over the years and experienced the benefits of them, so I know they can help. But I've also been a victim to the negative effects of multitasking such as divided attention and scattered focus. Multitasking on its own isn't necessarily good or bad. It's how and when we use it that the negative effects of multitasking start to show up.
More Reads on How to go After the Life you Want:
- Poverty is a Choice – How to Create the Life You Want
- No More Excuses! How to be Successful Without a College Degree
- Living a Fit Life: My Secret to Sticking With It
- YOU are the Reason Your Life Sucks – But You Can Totally Fix It!
Avoiding the Negative Effects of Multitasking
If you want to be able to keep doing all the things on your to-do list but avoid the negative effects of multitasking you have to make sure you're doing it the right way. So, here's some examples of multitasking the right way, and how to avoid those pesky negative effects.
Multitasking's all about knowing WHAT should and shouldn't be done at the same time. For example, I LOVE listening to podcasts. But, I know if I actually want to get anything out of them I have to be careful what I multitask with them. I can't listen while trying out a new DIY or work project because at the end of the podcast I have no idea what it was trying to teach. I might get bits and pieces, but missed everything about APPLYING it. Wasn't applying the information the whole point? So, when I want to listen to a podcast and actually learn something, I make sure to do it with something that doesn't need decision-making attention.
That's the key. Knowing if the task requires new thoughts/ideas, or if it's a habit-based activity. Combining habit-based tasks allows you to do multiple things at the same time without necessarily sacrificing quality. You don't need to devote 100% of your focus on it in order to get the desired result.
The Quality of the Habit Matters:
As I mentioned in the first point, habit-based tasks are the key to avoiding the negative effects of multitasking. So, to get the most out of multitasking you have to have good habits. The thing about habits is, they don't come overnight. You can't just decide to build a habit and do it perfectly in a day. It takes time. Once you've built a good habit though, it'll be much easier to multitask effectively. No matter how good you are at multitasking, if the habits you combine to get more done aren't good you're still going to end up with poor quality or product because you never perfected the process to begin with.
Remember how hard it was at first when you were learning to type? How tempting was it to look at the keys? At least for me, the struggle was REAL! But looking at the keys while learning meant I'd be hooked on it later. So, I didn't look and eventually after much time and effort I was able to hit almost every key without even thinking about it. Not only that, eventually I was able to type and talk on the phone at the same time.
That's the idea! Once you've built that good habit, the negative effects of multitasking are less likely to show up because you don't need as much attention to perform those tasks.
Continue to Make Plans:
One of the dangers of multitasking is that it has the tendency to take us off the reservation when it comes to the tasks at hand. Have you ever noticed how, when you're multitasking, you may be working on 2 things at first and then halfway through you realize you're working on 3 completely new things? That's because we tell ourselves that getting distracted is fine when we're multitasking because things are still getting done. But are they?
It's a dangerous game running down the rabbit hole of distraction. One that's almost impossible to come back from. And after getting all caught up in distractions, despite the fact that you're multitasking, you don't get to cross anything off that to-do list. Regardless of how “busy” you felt at the time. Even if you follow all the rules and do all the “right” things if you don't have a plan you'll end up running in circles and never accomplishing anything.
Don't Over Do It:
Just because there's a right way to do it, there's still such a thing as too much multitasking. There's a limit to how productive you can be while multitasking. Usually, if I try to do more than 3 things at once, no matter how good I think my multitasking skills are, something almost always gets left behind in the quality department. Know your limits when it comes to how many things you can do at once.
Another part of this is knowing how often to multitask. Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD be doing it all the time. Eventually, you're going to run out of steam. Ya know that accomplishment high I mentioned in the beginning? The problem with that is that every high has a low. That's why it's important to make sure you have a variety of multitasking and monotasking throughout your day. YOU want to be in control of when you slow down. Otherwise, you're going to come to a screeching halt out of exhaustion instead of planning out your day to give you time to rest productively.
Batch, Batch, Batch:
Have you ever heard of batching your work? If not, the idea behind it is that you'll get more done if the tasks you do are related because your mind doesn't have to completely change topics and thought patterns. If you're wanting to multitask on more complicated or detailed things, try batching similar things together.
** By the way, if you are wondering how I stay organized and keep my multitasking in order – I would be totally lost without my Big Happy Planner! **
From a blogging perspective, if I scheduled my day out so that everything got 1 hour a day, I'd definitely get things done. But, I'd get more quality work done by scheduling a specific type of task one day, another type of task the next day, etc. Instead of trying to go from a practical mindset to a creative one daily, I'd schedule all the creative tasks for one day and the organizational tasks another. Because trying to come up with something fun and creative is always so much harder after spending an hour on meal planning and grocery shopping. There's something about the energy it takes to balance entertaining a toddler and remembering all the groceries we need that erases my creative juices.
Tell Me Your Thoughts!
I'd love to know what side of the multitasking fence you're on! Is multitasking good in your opinion or bad? Do you have examples of multitasking and how it either was a good thing for your productivity or a bad thing?
GUEST AUTHOR BIO:
Mel B. is a self-diagnosed perfectionist, who writes about all things personal growth over at Everyday in Between. She believes that the only thing that keeps us from living our best life is ourselves! Her blog has an emphasis on healthy lifestyles and the power of mindsets, but she writes about all the everyday things that she learns along the way too. If you love learning and want some help reaching your goals, Mel is your girl! You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.