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    Here’s why you shouldn’t multitask

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    Five or ten years ago, maybe even in more recent years, everyone thought multitasking was a strength. Who wouldn’t want to get two tasks done at once? The ability to juggle always seemed like a benefit. But nowadays, as more research comes out, people realize that multitasking has more cons than pros.

    This article explains some of the consequences of multitasking and how you can minimize these adverse effects.

    The consequence of multitasking

    Lower productivity

    To some, this might seem counterintuitive. Multitasking is supposed to increase productivity, and now you hear that it actually reduces it?

    This holds true because when we multitask, we aren’t doing two things at once. Instead, we’re switching back and forth between two jobs. For example, if you’re writing a report and discussing another project with your boss on Slack or Skype, you’re switching back and forth — i.e., every time you respond to an instant message, you need to pause your report writing. Some research suggests that this reduces productivity by a whopping 40%.

    When you switch back and forth, you ultimately need to refocus yourself each time. This need to refocus takes time and takes away from a “deep focus” or “flow state“, where people are most productive on their tasks.

    More stress 

    Multitasking can also lead to more stress. When we multitask, we’re constantly interrupting ourselves. Because we’re less efficient when we’re trying to be more efficient by multitasking, we may frustrate ourselves by the lack of work we complete. This can ultimately increase our stress levels and reduce our happiness and mental health.

    Additionally, if one of the tasks stresses you, it could bleed into the second task. Suddenly, you have multiple jobs hurting your mental health. An alternative is to pick the “low hanging fruit”. Figure out which tasks you can finish most quickly and get them out of the way. As you realize your to-do list is shortening, your stress level may shorten with it.

    Multitasking can be rude

    Don’t you hate it when you’re speaking, and people aren’t paying attention? Well, meetings are a common place where we end up multitasking. Some think that they can simultaneously pay attention to a presentation or contribute to a discussion while filling out spreadsheets, but this often isn’t true.

    By splitting your focus, you may end up not retaining any of the meeting’s information and make numerous mistakes on your spreadsheet.

    Mistakes and lack of retention aren’t the only issues. If you’re noticeably focused on your laptop during a meeting, others may find it rude. You may even need the speaker to repeat a statement or embarrass yourself when you’re asked a question — utterly oblivious to what the question was.

    How to minimize multitasking’s adverse effects

    Tackle one task at a time

    In essence, the simplest solution to multitasking is to only tackle one task at a time. This is harder than it seems because we may be accustomed to multitasking and do it unconsciously.

    If you have the luxury of a giant or multiple screens, always ask yourself whether you need each screen for your task at hand. Often, we don’t, and we’re actually unconsciously multitasking, like replying to messages or watching YouTube while working.

    Practice mindfulness

    Mindfulness is the art of being present. You can almost see it as the opposite of multitasking because mindfulness requires you to focus only on what’s in front of you. This means not thinking about the future or the past. But it also means not managing multiple items at once.

    Its benefits are endless and include relieving stress and improving physical health. To tap into mindfulness, you can find many mindfulness exercises online. It’s also essential to constantly remind yourself to keep focused and not let other tasks or distractions detract you.

    Multitasking isn’t as great as it seems. Everyone would love to get two things done at once, but this isn’t entirely possible. For most people, focusing on one project at a time will ultimately be in your best interest.

    Originally published April 8, 2021, updated August 25, 2023

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