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4 Reasons to STOP Multitasking Right Now

Updated on August 12, 2015



What is multi-tasking?

Its a phrase most of us will have used and all of us will have read. Basically in human terms it refers to us managing or 'doing' more than one task at a time. So while we are working on the computer we may also be tweeting or texting on our smart phones, perhaps having a conversation with a colleague and even eating lunch. At home we may well be cooking while entertaining children, catching up on emails or any one of a hundred other things.Get the picture, we've probably all been there and we may even feel that if we didn't multitask we'd never get everything done!

But in fact research seems to show that the reverse is true and what we need to do is to learn to be really focussed on one thing for a time then move on to something else and in fact this approach will increase our productivity and our sense of well-being.

What Does Research Tell Us?

The big message from recent research s that we can't actually multitask well at all. When we think we are multitasking what we are actually doing is switching from one tsk to another, very quickly.

There are 2 main problems with this. The first is that in most 'cognitive' tasks we need to use our short term memory and there is only so much room there, so if we try to put several things at once in there some things will be lost. How many times have you been writing an email while talking and found that you have written, unintentionally a word that you said or heard in the conversation?

Research seems to show that contrary to popular belief multitasking doesn't help us get more done in fact it can actually reduce our productivity by as much as 40%

Secondly when you think you are multitasking you are actually switching between tasks very quickly, but not quickly enough because research suggest that time is lost in the process of switching. In fact as much as 20-40% of out time may be wasted when we switch.

1 - You Will Be More Productive

However it might 'feel' to you the fact is that if you stop multitasking you are likely to be more productive. It may have the additional benefit of pushing you to set or re-assess your priorities.

If something needs doing and you deem it to be important then it deserves your undivided attention at least for a time. By focussing on a single thing you are likely not only to get it done more quickly but the quality is likely to be better too.

I know that lots of tasks may not be completed in one 'sitting' but for those longer projects then set some time when you will on them exclusively, maybe just for half an hour, but give them your whole focus and see if it makes a difference. Then you can swap to another task that you have identified as a priority and give that your full attention. You will still have to swap between tasks but by NOT doing it several times a minute you will actually save time and be more productive.

2 You Will be Less Stressed

One of the other disadvantages of trying to multitask is that it can make you 'feel' busier and more stressed. Making the decision to actually prioritise tasks then focus on one at a time, can often increase satisfaction because you can actually get some quality work done. Sometimes you can actually finish something with a few hours of concentrated work rather than have it drag on for ages because you never give it your full attention.

By NOT multitasking you set yourself a task work on it and experience the satisfaction of a job well done. Of course there may be lots of other things to do but one of the things we humans actually find stressful is trying to keep plates spinning - doing a bit here and a bit there with a firefighting mentality. It may stop them actually crashing to the ground for a while but it's often better to have fewer 'plates' and devote more time and energy to each one.

3 You'll Make Fewer Mistakes

If we are honest with ourselves I bet that a lot of us will have made mistakes while multitasking. While they may have been relatively minor they may also have had the potential to be catastrophic.

Hopefully no-one reading this has been injured if texting while walking, but I bet a lot of us have sent a text or email to the wrong person simply because we were trying to do something else at the same time. Similarly it's very easy to miss an important date or time if you are busy with social media while in a meeting. It's also easy to burn the dinner if you are also on the phone, catching up on a TV programme or getting absorbed in reading a book or emails.

If it is worth going to the meeting or having the conversation then surely it is worth giving it you undivided attention. Once adopt the mind-set that you will give things your full concentration it really helps you to decide what things are worth actually being involved in - unless of course it is something that work dictates - in which case it could be time for a chat with the boss if you are regularly giving time to things that aren't really worth concentrating on.

At home when we get into a whirl and are dashing round trying to do ten things at once it's easy to drop and spill things and actually then have to spend time doing a clear up job - there's often truth in the old proverb 'more haste less speed' and frequently we end up rushing because we are tryng to do doing several things all at the same time.

4 You Will Realise the Value of Your Time

If you can make the shift and begin to approach your days in way that is proactive not reactive, you will begin to realise how efficient and effective you can be. When that happens it's easier to become a bit more assertive and deal with distractions firmly but simply. Whether it's a colleague who keeps being determined to chat or a boss that insists on piling several jobs or projects on you at once. It will get easier to explain calmly but assertively what you are concentrating on and when you will be ready for something else.

But it is something that you have to learn, many of us find it very hard not to be distracted because for so long we have not allowed ourselves to be focussed and concentrate. Instead we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by every beep of our phone or whisper from a colleague. BUt the good news is that we can improve our concentration skills and this will help us not only at work but in every aspect of our lives.

What To Do Now

In order to start giving our full attention to things sometimes takes a bit of effort and might involve making a few key decisions to change the way we do certain things

  • Set goals or priorities for each day or 'slot' within your day.
  • Put unnecessary technology aside for a time, if you are working on the computer on a task that needs concentration then put your phone out of the way or at least on silent.
  • Recognise the value of YOUR time - prioritise, focus, get a task done, then make time to relax and do that wholeheartedly too
  • If you are with people that you want to spend time with (especially children) give them the privilege of having your undivided attention
  • Enjoy getting used to a life that feels more measured, more productive and less stressed


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    • profile image

      Sara Metzger 2 years ago

      Your article makes so much sense. Multi tasking used to be what everyone said you had to do, but the points you raise definitely make me rethink the whole multi-tasking effort.

    • Sheila Mulvenney profile image

      sheila 2 years ago from Bedford

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting - it's a shame to hear about your experiences and sad that so many managers don't value their staff

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      It is good of you to point out the important research against the use of multitasking. During my first training as a restaurant manager trainee, the manager told me to do one thing, then he told me to do another thing across a long floor several yards in length. Then he stared yelling that I had to RUN back and forth on the slick floor and do both. That's a good way to get hurt.

      What I find often in a few companies in the workplace, the higher your wages, the more multitasking the company demands so that they can get rid of another employee and his company benefits. It happened on my first job. After organizing the filing system, I was able to reduce the filing staff from 2 people to 1; so, they promoted the OTHER woman and she quit anyway. This was after I discovered a duplicate payment on a $35,000 invoice, which saved the company several times my annual income. After two years, I was required to do the work of four people, became anemic, and quit to attend college.

      Unless one task is very long and allows you room and time for one other task, multitasking eventually short circuits one's neuromuscular responses. Not good!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Yup! Loved this!

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 2 years ago from India

      Excellent advice

      It is high time for me to think about stopping multitasking

      Voted up and shared