Is Multitasking Good for You?

Juggling multiple tasks with the aim of completing all of them together or in the shortest possible time is multitasking. The human brain is designed to remember multiple events and correlate but when it comes to implementation, it needs complete focus to achieve the best results. This is because, the brain can multitask but cannot guarantee the best results owing to various factors like increased risk of errors and slips, reduced levels of co-ordination between tasks and correlation, fatigue caused by the constant switching of tasks, and greater stress levels due to constant brain activity.

So, what exactly happens when you multitask?

Weakens your Brain

According to a study conducted by the University of Sussex,  when you multitask the density of the part of the brain responsible for cognition and discernment is reduced as opposed to individuals who do not multitask. It clearly damages the cognitive abilities of your brain and you end up with higher reaction time and lower emotional control; basically a slow working brain!

Lack of Perception

Repetitive juggling between tasks makes you less perceptive towards the difference between priority work and other work. You are usually under the impression that you are doing important work and getting work done while in reality, you are probably just hopping from one task to another without really making any progress in any of your multiple tasks because you want to give attention to all your tasks without discerning the important ones from the rest.

Leads to Backlogs

It goes without saying, that multitasking leads to slower progress which in turn means more backlog. And piled up work means missed deadlines too.

Lowers Efficiency

When your brain is unable to cope with the multiple activities on hand, it tends to tire out which leads to unnecessary errors and unsatisfactory work. Simply put, multitasking lowers your quality of work owing to inefficiencies and also damages your reputation in the eyes of your manager and team members.

Diminishes Productivity

All the above factors affect the most crucial aspect of your role on the job and that is productivity. According to research, multitasking reduces the productivity of an employee by 40% which is bad news for the organization as well.

How to stop multitasking?

I have put together a comprehensive list of measures that you can employ to stop multitasking and become more productive.

Identify your work process

A very meager percentage that is up to 2% of individuals is successful in multitasking. The irony is that the rest of the 98% believe that they belong to the 2% and are under the misconception that they are doing it successfully. So, firstly ascertain your working style and figure out how much work you are achieving on a given day with reference to your targets for the day. If you notice yourself switching between the day’s tasks without really accomplishing anything, beware you are a multi-tasker only by perception and need to get out of that misconception.

Identify your Tasks

Discern your priority work from the less crucial tasks and organize your workday around those tasks in their order of priority so you don’t miss out on any work and their deadlines.

Organize your Tasks

Mix and match time-consuming and priority tasks with the rest so that you can give enough attention to the task on hand at any given time without worrying about the rest. In short streamline your tasks, time, and process in such a manner that you are able to complete your work within the desired time frame and that too without any stress. For example, group together tasks that require a similar line of thought and skills and assign them for the time you presume will be required to complete before moving onto the next activity. Always assign priority tasks for when you are the freshest and fueled to work.

Project Management Tools

Teams should avail of the myriad project management tools available in the market to stay in the loop and share updates and changes on a common platform. It helps you stay in the groove without the distraction of looking for references that put a short or sometimes even longer pause on your work. It has been proved that a distracted individual requires approximately 25 minutes to recover from the distraction and get back to what he was doing.

Condition your Brain

On a personal level, invest in conditioning your brain in such a way, that it accepts the fact that you function best when training all attention on one activity at any given time and never show haste in grabbing the opportunity of any minor distraction to divert your attention from work. Cultivate the habit of ignoring unimportant thoughts that interrupt your workflow and hampers your productivity. Answering an unimportant call or texting someone outside work or reacting to social media notifications or even the temptation of going through another task while already working on one, can wait.

I have a very simple example to explain multitasking. Imagine you are driving to a client location for an important meeting and you have your GPS to navigate you through the best route to your destination. And while you’re at it, you get a call from a colleague which you know is not important, and yet you receive it. Now he may want a certain file that you can share later but you want to get it off your chest and park on the side to share it. You resume driving and notice a couple of notifications that again are not urgent but anyway you choose to check them losing more time. And along the way, you also miss out on the correct route instructions and have to go back a little to find the right route or alternate route as per the GPS. Finally, when you arrive for the meeting, you are already late for an entire 15 minutes. How professional is that?

Everything boils down to how you train yourself and resist the urge to try completing a maximum number of tasks together or in rapid succession. Crush the urge to reply immediately to all your calls and notifications. Know what demands your attention and what can be addressed later. Effectiveness comes with quality and quality comes with focus. Accept that 98% of humans are incapable of multitasking and you belong to that category and there is no harm in streamlining your work to suit your pace, targets, and competencies.