Why You Should Stop Multitasking Right Now

May 11, 2021 3:56 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

Penny Catterall

Order Your Life

May 11, 2021


Multitasking is something a lot of us do without even realizing it. It has become a way of life in our crazy, non-stop world. According to the American Psychological Association, multitasking happens when someone tries to perform multiple tasks simultaneously, switching from one task to another, or performing two or more tasks in rapid succession. Multitasking reduces productivity.

Dave Crenshaw, time management expert and author of The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done, says “When someone tells me that they are good at multitasking, I know they’re inefficient. Saying that you’re a good multitasker is the same as saying that you’re good at using a less effective method to get things done.”

He has a point. We are always trying to make the most of the time we have by doing several things at once, but multitasking, especially with complex tasks, has been actually proven to be counter-productive. If you’re the type of person who multitasks on a daily basis, now is the time to stop. Here’s why.

The negative effects of multitasking

If you search online for the negative  effects of multitasking, you’ll be swamped with articles showing how multitasking reduces productivity. To save you the trouble, I’ve listed the top three negative effects of multitasking and what science has to say about it.

1.   Multitasking reduces productivity and increases stress

Research shows that when we engage in task switching, our productivity decreases significantly. It can take up to 25 minutes for our brains to refocus after being interrupted from a state of flow. When you force your brain to constantly switch gears, you lose time and efficiency.

These interruptions cause stress on the brain – a sort of mental overload. It’s also easier to make mistakes when you are in a state of stress, leading to poor work performance and anxiety. The world and the things we do to get by every day cause enough stress and anxiety. Why would we want to add more by multitasking?

2.   Causes brain issues

Multitasking is linked to causing several brain issues. This is because by switching from one task to another too quickly, our brain isn’t able to keep up. It is still focused on the first task and by the time it begins to focus on the new one, we have likely moved on to a third one.

We believe we’re being productive by crossing off a lot of items on our daily to-do lists, . but productivity is not about how much you get done, it’s about working towards results. Busy is busy, it does not equal productivity. Multitasking won’t help you achieve productive results, because you’re not giving your brain the opportunity to focus on the task you need to accomplish.

3.   Causes memory problems

And our kids are learning from us. They see us trying to juggle several things at once, making them believe they can do the same. When we’re talking on our phones while doing something else, we’re not giving either thing our full attention. Kids see that behavior and mimic what they see. The Cleveland Clinic says teaching our kids to multitask is hindering their ability to work well. Multitasking makes it difficult for their still-developing brain to connect thoughts and it slows their ability to prioritize and make clear choices. [1] If you’ve been teaching your kids to multitask, stop now, and instead teach them how to stay focused on one task at a time.

3.   Stunts creativity

Decreased performance combined with increased stress, anxiety, and cognitive issues, add up to the third most negative effect of multitasking – a block in creativity. If you’re constantly jumping from one thing to another, how can your brain have the room to produce original work? You need to relax to get creative. That state of flow that you get when you focus on one thing is what brings about creativity, inspiration, and deep productive work.

Tips to stay focused on one task

Now that you know why multitasking is bad for your productivity, what can you do to fix it? If you’ve been a natural multitasker all your life, how do you change the way you work? Start here:

  • Pomodoro technique. If you have a lot on your to-do list, try this time management method. Spend 25 minutes on a task. When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break. Then continue on with the previous task or start another one. That 5-minute break lets your brain reset itself so it can focus on the next task without needing to catch up. You can read more about this on my blog post here.
  • Turn off your notifications. How many times have you stopped working because you saw a new email, social media, or message notification? These little distractions are productivity’s biggest enemy. Turn off all your notifications when you need to focus on a task.
  • Find your best time of day. We all have a time of day where we feel most energized and ready to tackle anything. It can be first thing in the morning, mid-afternoon, or even at night. Try and notice when you feel most productive and dedicate that time slot to working on those really important tasks.
  • Create weekly milestones. Break large goals down into smaller, weekly tasks. Use some reverse engineering to figure out how long a certain project will take. Then work backward from its due date. Once you know how much time you have, create weekly goals or tasks. By the end of each week, you’ll be closer to a finished product.
  • Take breaks. That 5-minute break in the Pomodoro technique is super important. Your brain can only handle so much for so long. Give it a chance to breathe. Set a timer to go off every hour. When it does, get up, stretch, walk around, and step away from the computer. Five minutes is all you need for a little brain recharge.
  • Keep a notebook nearby. Jot down ideas as you do your work. Keeping a notebook handy is a great way to capture thoughts and other to-dos. This will help you keep track of what is next, without compromising the work of the task you’re currently working on.

So, in a nutshell, don’t let yourself fall into the multitasking abyss. If you can focus on single tasking, it will ultimately help you better organize your thoughts and to-do lists, and ultimately achieve your goals. In my busy life, I have found Evernote to be a tremendously useful tool.  I offer consulting services to teach you how to use it and make it part of your daily routine. Find out more here. And be sure to check out last month’s post about The Best Time Management Tips to Boost Productivity, where I go into more depth about some of these tips.

For more information, contact Penny Catterall

NAPO - Washington DC Metro Chapter |  PO Box 7301, Arlington, VA 22207  |  info@dcorganizers.org  |  (240) 883-6434

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