Have you heard of people with the ability to multitask? You know, those that handle client calls while sending emails, or those that can talk with a coworker while finishing up a report. Most likely, yes, especially from typical ‘productivity gurus’ you find at work. But the real question is—are they really giving their full focus to any one of those tasks? Well, not really. Multitasking and is not the same as being productive. As Steve Uzzell says in The One Thing, “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” In fact, there’s a ton of research and studies that already link multitasking to several critical problems like bad mental health, low productivity, and more. But despite scientific findings, many people mistake multitasking as a performance enabler and work on improving their multitasking skills, but that’s a lie. In this article, I use science and research to disprove the highly sought-after multitasking skills and share nuggets of wisdom to point you in the right direction. So let’s dive in.
What’s wrong with multitasking?
The internet’s flooded with ‘tips and tricks’ on how to improve multitasking skills that supposedly improve productivity, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. But don’t take it from me, here are three key problems of multitasking backed by recent studies and hard grit data:
Problem 1: You lose sight of what’s important
Our brains are designed to focus on one thing, so bombarding it with information will only slow it down. As MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller notes, “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” You see, this constant task-switching triggers a dopamine response in the brain—and this encourages us to keep switching between tasks to gain this feeling of instant gratification. Ultimately this leads to a dangerous feedback loop that gives you an illusion that you’re accomplishing a ton aka ‘fake productivity.’ In reality? You’ve not done much at all or at least nothing that’s required some critical thinking (No, answering emails does not count!).
Problem 2: You lower your efficiency
Doing too many things at once, divides your attention—and this makes it easy to get distracted and lose focus on completing the task. What’s more, multitasking makes it difficult to remember things as your brain is shifting functions that lead to loss of efficiency. To be precise, an estimated 28% loss of the average workday! Ultimately you’ll end missing your targets despite hitting longer hours because you’re inefficient. It’s no surprise that 65% of sales reps spend their time on nonrevenue generating activities and end up missing their quotas despite ‘working hard.’
Problem 3: You feel burned out
Our brain isn’t built to multi-task, so forcing it to learn this skill will only cause it more harm than good. In fact, a study at the University Of London revealed that multitaskers experience significant IQ drops. What’s more, these drops are the same as those experienced from losing a night of sleep. It’s no surprise multitasking increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that causes stress. After all, you’ll be working tirelessly, making more errors than usual, and taking much longer than average (a sure-fire way to burn out). There are many more studies that have exposed the harmful effects of multitasking, but all these studies point out to one fact: Multitasking is a terrible work ethic that does more harm than good and needs to be stopped right away. Which brings me to my next point…
How to stop multitasking: Best practices from hyper-productive teams.
In theory, multitasking enables you to get a lot more done at once. But the reality is that this is nothing but an illusion of productivity. What’s more, we live in a world filled with distractions, especially considering the advent of attention-grabbing tech that makes it difficult to focus on one thing. But the fundamentals of the human brain hold still. In fact, you’re better off focusing wholeheartedly on completing a single task than trying to be everywhere at one time. So how can you avoid distractions and be more productive at your workplace? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to productivity. But a good place to start is by being mindful of what’s most important. Enter: Workplace mindfulness Mindfulness allows ourselves to fully complete a particular task before moving on to the next one—and as a result, we end up finishing tasks at speed. On the other hand, multitasking is what takes us away from the present moment (the core principle of mindfulness). However, while mindfulness is straightforward, it’s far from easy. But there are a few best practices you can implement to emulate this mindset:
Strategy 1: Manage work by the week
The idea is once you organize your workload, you have everything laid out for you. So now you’re spending more time doing as opposed to thinking about what to do next. I recommend creating a task board to break up complex workweeks into smaller actionable days and setting a clear agenda to each day. On another note, breaking workweeks by the week helps creates a sense of urgency that will, in turn, motivate you or your team to get working and meet immediate KPIs.
Strategy 2: Create a distraction-free environment
Distractions are terrible when you’re trying to implement mindfulness as they make it harder to adopt a laser-sharp focus. For this reason, it’s essential to create a distraction-free environment that’s free from any potential interruptions. Here are a few actionable ways to help you create a distraction-free environment:
- Audit your behavior and find what triggers your distractions (think: emails, social media, coworker, etc.).
- Once you find the root cause, eliminate it from your workplace. For example, use productivity apps to block off social media for hyper work periods.
- Find a quiet place to work (that’s free from negative Nancy’s).
The secret to productivity: Don’t multitask
Being more productive is not improving your ability to multitask. Instead, it is the ability to organize your time better in a manner that will allow you to focus on what’s matters the most. But don’t expect to get that A-level of productivity overnight. Productivity is an on-going process that will take some time and effort, but what’s key is to keep fine-tuning strategy until it works for you. Check out monday.com Blog for key insights and best practices followed by the most productive teams in the industry.