Multitasking (and why it just doesn’t work!)

We know what it feels like to have a million and one things screaming for our attention. Whether it’s your smartphone (and its many message, email, and calendar alerts) when you’re on the go, your work computer (and its emails — if they aren’t haunting your phone already) and that pile of papers on your desk in the office, or those seemingly never-ending chores when you get home (a list that will only grow ever longer if you have a pet or kids) — whatever they are, their message is one and the same: I Need IT To Be Done…NOW!

This usually sends most people trying to complete as many of the tasks on their to-do list as possible in (what feels like) the very little time they have to “do it all” scrambling to do as many things as they can at once; for example, one might pick up a call while cooking dinner, with one eye on the news that’s blasting on the television — in other words, we start to multitask (and here, the ever famous tag by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in the trailer for his TV-show ‘Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals’ comes to mind: “…time-saving tricks, and multitasking to the max!”)

The ability to multitask is often lauded as a basic requirement for any job in the market. After all, one of the driving foci of businesses is the desire to seek out ways to do more for less, and in a shorter period of time. But just how effective is multitasking and does it really save time? Is multitasking even good for us?

Time (Business) disagrees with the notion. In fact, it decries multitasking (more specifically ‘chronic multitasking’ as “a weakness, not a strength”. Citing a 2010 study by Inserm (a French medical research agency), Time professes that simultaneously working on more than two tasks “increases the likelihood of errors”.

Psychology Today calls multitasking a ‘misnomer’. Its’ evidence? Years of psychological studies showing that people can only do one cognitive task at a time. (That’s one less task than what Time cited as possible.) According to Psychology, what we are really doing when we ‘are multitasking’ is what it calls ‘task-switching’ — which, like Time, Psychology agrees that doing too many things at once makes us less than productive.

In fact, both articles agree that the more often one multitasks, the less productive we become, whether we are doing many, or one task at a timean opinion supported by National Geographic’s ‘What Drives You Crazy?’ programme.

“Multitasking is not always beneficial, frequent multi-taskers performed more poorly on tests compared to those who did not multitask as much.”

‘What Drives You Crazy’; National Geographic.

On top of reduced productivity from lack of focus, according to National Geographic, multitasking can further increase ‘un-productivity’ by increasing stress!

So how then can we reduce this time wasted?

Time’s 20-Minute Rule:

Rather than switching tasks from minute to minute, dedicate a 20-minute chunk of time to a single task, then switch to the next one.

(Clifford Nass, Stanford).

Psychology Today’s Tips to effectively cope with all the input and distractions you have in your life:

  1. The 80/20 rule: focus on the 20% of you to-do list that is the most effective.

  2. Process things in batches – and designate time slots to do them

  3. Prioritizework on your most important tasks first

  4. Set time periods to do only one thing (and shut off everything else)

  5. Do nothing — really. Absolutely nothing. Specifically, take breaks and do things that help you relax (e.g. go for a walk, do yoga, stare into spaceand nothing else) a few times a day.

  6. Identify when you’re multitaskingand stop it.

  7. Periodically disconnectmore than just the daily, short periods of ‘nothingness’ make it a rule to take a holiday now and then, and not check your email and/or phone during that time.

((Check out the full article by Psychology Today for the more detailed list.))


From: Amanda Yun

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