Multitasking is killing your productivity – how counterintuitive does that sound? You would think that being able to multitask means you are getting more work done at once, and is therefore productive.
I am going to have to fully disagree! That is the point of this post!
Don’t get me wrong, I have spent a lot of time in work and in school multitasking. What could be wrong with writing a discussion board answer, while listening to music, and working on homework at the same time?
Well, I realized there was an issue when it took me three times as long to answer my discussion board question. Typically they should take under an hour, and that night it took my three. Same with my homework. Should have been an hour tops of studying French verbs for the night. Instead, it took me almost 2 hours.
My point is, by multitasking I was actually taking more time to finish all three things. It was actually hurting how productive I was that evening.
I ended up going to bed 3 hours later than normal that night, and was absolutely unsatisfied with all three things I did that evening.
I learned that day, that I’m not as efficient as I thought I was when I was multitasking. Then everything changed.
How I worked, studied, and managed my time was altered around the opposite of multitasking. (single tasking, is that the word) Completing one thing at a time and moving down the list.
This is the reason I want to write this post about how multitasking is killing your productivity. Let’s look at some startling facts about multitasking and your productivity.
In the great words of Ron Swanson…
Facts About How Multitasking is Killing Your Productivity
Multitasking is actually damaging to your brain
Sounds scary I know, but hear me out. I’m about to drop some social sciences information on you! (shoutout to my student debt)
Our brains are not capable of focusing on multiple things at one time.
Have you ever tried to watch tv while also listening to your mom? You might have been able to catch the gist of what is going on with either part, but odds are you didn’t get everything that the tv and your mom was saying.
We think that our brains are able to concentrate on two (or more) different things at once, but what’s really happening? Not that. Instead, our brain is having to jump back and forth between the multiple tasks. It ends up briefly focusing on one task before moving on to the other.
This is constant interruption (aka the definition of multitasking) and it brings our brain higher levels of stress. You may have also heard it referred to as cognitive overload. This is when your brain is trying to process too much information at once and can end up dulling your brain and your reaction time.
Don’t believe me? There was a study done that proved how constant multitasking can be overall damaging to your brain. You can read all about it here! The gist is, they found that people who regularly multitask in their lives had lower brain density. This was highly reflective in the regions of their brains that controls your cognitive and emotional control as well as empathy.
Makes sense why when you’re doing too much at once it’s easy to be irritable – am I right?
Good news though! If you have been a habitual multitasker in the past, you can fix any damage that multitasking has done.
You simply have to structure your daily work and home life in a way that requires concentration for one thing at a time. As long as you are in a place where you can concentrate, focusing on one aspect of your life or job at a time and altering your distractions can get you right back on track!
Multitasking lowers the quality of your finished work
Putting it plainly, when you multitask you are not giving each project the attention it needs to be and will result in your work suffering.
When you multitask there are (at least) three additional stressors you add on, on top of the stress to get one project done in the first place.
- Your timeline will be extended because it is taking you longer to complete your tasks
- Panic will set in as you are losing so much time to backlogging (read about this in my next fact) and realize you may not get everything done in time
- You are aware you are not producing your level of satisfactory work so you are anxious about turning in all three assignments at a lower level of quality
Those are the three additional stressors that almost always sink in when I am multitasking at work or even in my personal life. Want to learn how to eliminate multitasking in the workplace?
Multitasking actually makes you less productive
This is what I was talking about in my intro!
This is the point I wanted to share this knowledge with all of you! Multitasking shouldn’t even be the word we use. Instead it should be task-switching – since that is really what we are doing.
Studies show that when you multitask you are reducing your productivity rate by 40%. Forty Freaking Percent. That’s almost 50… That should be proof enough that multitasking is killing your productivity.
One thing you do when you multitask, whether you realize it or not, is backlog. And I mean you backlog a LOT. This is when you switch back to a different area of concentration and have to spend time looking back at what you’ve previously done to get caught back up.
Do you know how many times I had to reread what I had just written because I had no idea what it said!
Being able to switch between one task and another does not make us good at multitasking. Instead it’s showing us our ability to lose focus. That is something I want to stop doing right now. Our lives are so chaotic, there is constant input and output coming at us from every angle.
But we have to be able to focus our attention on one thing consistently. That is how we are going to get things done and succeed!
Multitasking will reduce your ability to make connections
Multitasking can make it very difficult to remember things.
When you are working on multiple things at once, are you able to remember specifics about each project? Odds are, you aren’t. And if you can, you won’t be able to remember everything about all three projects.
Back with the science… Many different studies have shown that when we multitask we are actually losing the ability to remember what we are doing. We are also unable to learn and retain the information we are receiving from different sources. Finally, multitaskers will have far more difficulty being able to put what we just learned into contexts later on.
Since our brain is having to spend so much time bouncing between different sources of information, it doesn’t have time to retain, remember, or apply the knowledge we are receiving. Focusing on one thing at a time allows our brain to retain the information, take it in, and remember it later on.
Multitasking can negatively affect the process and your finished work
We make more errors when we switch between different projects at the same time. Changing between things so quickly can lead to sloppy finished products as we scrambled to get everything done in time.
There is also evidence that points to how we do our work and how multitasking can affect that process. Multitasking makes us prone to cheat and alter how we would normally get something done. Essentially when you are multitasking you will cut corners so there is a way to deliver on all your projects by a certain time.
Now of course by simply multitasking I’m not saying you are a cheater or anything like that. But when we multitask we lower our discretions down just enough so we can accomplish a lot of things at once.
I’ll give you the perfect example.
In my sociology of family class I had to turn in 10+ page papers regularly. I knew how long it took me on average to do the research, writing, and proofreading – so I can’t even use that as an excuse. One night I found myself with a paper due in 4 hours that I hadn’t even started. When it got close to that 11:59 PM deadline, I didn’t have time to credit my sources. (this is a big deal in collegiate writing) I had to multitask the research, writing, and proofreading all at once. Obviously a lot got left out and I got an incomplete grade for that assignment. Refusing to cite sources affected my overall grade in the class.
See, it’s not like we set out to break the rules or not deliver satisfactory work. In fact it’s the opposite! By trying to deliver high quality work, we tend to take on a lot more than we can handle. That in turn may jeopardize the quality of work you deliver.
How to Make Your Workplace More Productive
If you are a big multitasker at work, it might be because multitasking is the norm of your office. Your coworkers are likely running around trying to do different things at once, and it might seem chaotic.
I know for me I could see this happening in both a school setting, as well as an office setting.
We have this mentality that there simply isn’t enough time in the day so we have to get everything done as soon as we can. Hopefully by what you read above you are starting to see the issues with working like this!
You may want to educate your employees on the dangers of multitasking. If productivity is your goal, multitasking should not be the way to get there.
A few things to try to make your workplace more productive:
- Model the behavior that you want to see around you
How do you want people to respond to you when you are talking? Face to face eye contact, and full attention? Make sure you are reciprocating that. You can apply this to all aspects of your job, and sooner or later people will start to notice, and reciprocate.
We have this nact to mimic actions that result in a positive response. If someone is doing something and receiving satisfaction from others, you are more bound to repeat the same action. Sometimes even without noticing!
- Be with the “Here & Now Culture”
Have you ever heard of the concept of mindfulness? It’s one I can’t wait to deep dive into later on! It’s this concept of being mindful of where you are and how you are engaging with others. Simply encourage that people around you are engaging in mindfulness behavior.
At the start of meetings you can have everyone take a deep breath to recenter their energy, as well as a good starting point for your meeting.
Adding in simple moments like these throughout your day can help others know when they need to refocus their attention.
- Implement Change in the Office
Now if you are in a position of power in your office or work environment, you should definitely find time to restructure how your team and employees are doing throughout the day. It’s possible to restructure how your meetings are run without the use of cellphones. Making that tiny change may change the attention you receive.
If you aren’t really in a position of power, simply bring something up to your manager or shift leader. Mention how you think multitasking is damaging their productivity rates. Odds are, they want their team running as efficiently as they can, so they will probably listen.
And if they don’t, simply be in charge of yourself. Rethink how you work in your work environment. Make sure you are focusing on one thing at a time and then moving on. At the end of the day you can only be responsible for yourself!
If you want some more tips on how to eliminate multitasking in the workplace, you have to read my post! I also mention some great tools that you can use to combat the problem you have with multitasking!