Multitasking is certainly nothing new. We all do it. We cannot seem to finish our work without constantly checking our emails or social media. While we often allow ourselves to be interrupted by others out of courtesy, we also permit them to do so because we believe in our ability to multitask. In fact, multitasking is a quality most of us try to develop and an ability employers often value in new hires.
If the ability to multitask is so great, why has it become controversial and shunned in recent years? Is there something about multitasking that is harmful that we know not of? If there is, we may have sunk too deeply into the habit of multitasking. With that said, when life gives you lemons, make lemonades. Applying that saying here, we might as well get to the bottom of the pros and cons of multitasking.
So what is the truth about multitasking?
Doing different tasks simultaneously may save you a lot of time, but do you know that your brain takes approximately 23 mins to get back into the momentum after switching between tasks? With that said, it might be more time-efficient to stick to one task until its completion!
Meanwhile, a research has shown that people can perform tasks faster while switching between them. However, that was only because they sped up their work pace to compensate for the time lost switching between tasks.
Every time we are interrupted, our brains take in new information and lose their focus on the previous task. Here’s a good example for you! You would normally find it hard to stay focus on your mathematics test while talking to a friend.
A computer’s CPU can only process one piece of code at a time. However, it alternates between the tasks at such speed that it gives the illusion of the work being done at the same time. A juggler may seem like he is focusing on all the balls he is juggling simultaneously. However, if you look closely, he only maintains eye contact with one ball at a time. So, the term ‘multitask’ is not accurate because it is actually impossible for the brain to focus on different tasks simultaneously. Instead, it switches its focus between the tasks, which explains the term ‘task-switching’. Thus, you are actually only focusing on one task at a time.
We assume that our brains can focus on different tasks at once, but will the quality of our work remain just as good as if we only focus on one task at a time? The fast and constant switching of tasks can cause the brain to burn energy at a faster rate, leaving us mentally exhausted, which takes a toll on the quality of our work, even leading to mistakes!
Some may argue that there are people who are capable of producing quality work while juggling different tasks. However, that may depend on the tasks being performed. There’s a possibility that if the tasks complement one another, then performing them simultaneously may boost productivity rate! In a research, people were asked to pedal on an exercise bike while solving problems mentally. Results showed that they pedaled 25% faster while solving problems. In fact, they did not perform worse in solving the problems. The researchers could not explain the results, but it showed the possibility that multitasking may be beneficial.
Regularly performing multiple tasks simultaneously can lead to anxiety, higher workload, deadline pressures and frustration. These stressful conditions may lead to weight gain, a weaker immune system, and higher risks of cardiovascular diseases. High stress levels also increase our body’s production of cortisol, a hormone that increase glucose production which causes our blood sugar levels to rise, increasing the risk of diabetes. Now these reasons sure get us to consider dropping the habit of multitasking!
A study from the University of London showed that when men multitask, their IQ score drops 15 points to that of an average 8-year old child’s.This decline in IQ can also result from staying up all night or smoking marijuana. It just isn’t worthwhile to sabotage your IQ in the long run.
To top it off, your EQ gets affected as well! Our habit of multitasking can affect our relationship with friends and family. Contrary to popular opinion, we cannot listen well to someone while texting at the same time. Furthermore, it is only basic courtesy that we offer someone our full undivided attention when he/she is speaking.
Well, maybe multitasking isn’t all that bad. Here’s an interesting trivia: as they are multitasking, people may find themselves absorbing information that is irrelevant to the current task they are trying to focus on. Psychologists call this ‘leaky attention’, something often exhibited by successful creatives. Who knows, a random information you unknowingly absorbed may one day turn out to become your next big idea!
Multitasking- yay or nay?
If we’ve scared you into ditching your multitasking ways, there are some useful aids to help you do so. There is the Podomoro technique where you time yourself with a tomato timer for each task, and for writers, the Sadistic Writing App which forces you to keep typing by deleting your work if you’ve been idle for more than 5 seconds. If these modern techniques are too extreme for you, simply try batch processing where you group your tasks into ‘batches’ by their complexity and assign each ‘batch’ an appropriate amount of time to spend working on. But if you want to stick to your guns, then be sure to make full use of the advantages of multitasking! Still, I hope that I have given you some food for thought and also helped shed some light on the multitasking myth.
Regardless of whether you are a multitasker or a monotasker, I hope that this article will help you to better understand your work habits. I also wish for this to aid our survey takers in managing surveys and increase in productivity!
multitasking, social media, quality of work, podomoro, productivity