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Blog > Multitasking: Is It Really Effective for Time Management?

Multitasking: Is It Really Effective for Time Management?

Multitasking is ruining your productivity.
Multitasking business person who looks like they have a headache from workload, sitting in front of laptop.

Have you ever heard someone brag about how well they can multitask? They juggle all sorts of personal and professional tasks simultaneously to get more things done in a day. They analyze data on a spreadsheet while participating in a conference call. They read over contracts while on the treadmill. They answer emails while helping their children with their homework.

Studies have shown, however, that multitasking isn’t an effective time management strategy. In fact, it’s a productivity-ruiner that negatively affects work and causes more stress.

Here’s everything you need to know about all the pitfalls of multitasking — and how you can build more mindful and productive work habits in multitasking’s place.

The Multitasking Myth

Some people think that multitasking allows them to get more done in less time, but if you know anyone who claims they’re an excellent multitasker, you may have noticed that, more often than not, multitasking means they make more mistakes.

Sure, you might technically be able to finish answering all those emails while participating in a Zoom meeting — but how thoroughly are you reading the emails, and how much are you truly participating in the discussion? Subpar work, missed information, and less meaningful interactions with your colleagues result from trying to multitask.

But why is this the case when so many professionals swear by multitasking?

Regardless of what anyone says, the only thing that can make you more efficient and effective at work is focus (i.e., concentration). While you can do two things at once, you usually can’t do two things well at once because you can only focus on one thing at a time.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”

The APA further states that when you try to switch between tasks, two things have to happen in your brain. First, your brain has to decide that you want to switch all your focus from the first thing to a second thing. Then, your brain has to make the cognitive switch.

That switch takes time and has a cost known as the “switching cost.” While switching costs are minimal (the APA estimates that cost to be around a few tenths of a second), think about how often you change tasks when multitasking. You could go back and forth between your Zoom meeting and your emails 10, 20, or 30 times a minute — which is many seconds lost, and it all adds up. The APA further states that, when you consider the mental blocks that sometimes occur due to this switching, you could lower your productivity by as much as 40%.

So, no, you can’t successfully “multitask.” Multitasking isn’t doing multiple things at once. It’s switching your concentration rapidly between numerous tasks, losing precious time.

The Consequences of Multitasking

In addition to lowering productivity, multitasking comes with other negative consequences, as backed by science. When you multitask, you can expect to:

  • Harm your overall memory function (as determined by a Stanford University study)
  • Lower your efficiency (as reported by Cleveland Clinic, alongside the below consequences)
  • Make more mistakes
  • Lower your ability to focus overall, even when not multitasking
  • Negatively impact your ability to learn new skills
  • Take longer to complete tasks

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4 Tips to Manage Your Time Wisely (And Stop Multitasking!)

Are you someone who frequently multitasks — and makes mistakes when you do? Use these tricks to manage your time wisely and avoid falling into the multitasking mindset.

1. Prioritize Your Tasks

Before the work week even begins, prioritize your tasks based on urgency and importance. This can help you focus on your most important tasks first, before you switch your focus to less-important tasks. You’ll know that your attention is where it belongs, allowing you to concentrate on tasks that yield the highest ROI.

2. Block Your Time

When you’ve prioritized your tasks and know what to spend your time on, block out the required time and protect it. Time blocking can reduce the temptation you might feel to multitask and, instead, motivate you to invest your energy into more focused work periods.

3. Use Technology to Your Advantage

If you have a shared work calendar, block out time to focus so that no one can request meetings with you during these periods. Additionally, turn off notifications on your devices or log out of your email or Slack for a while. You can also set boundaries around screen time and how people can reach you to improve your concentration.

4. Practice Mindful Multitasking

If you must multitask to get everything done in a short period of time, practice mindful multitasking by pairing non-concentration tasks with concentration-heavy tasks.

For example, if you told your boss you’d read that new book on career development but haven’t had time, download the audiobook and listen to it while washing dishes or running on the treadmill.

As you choose which non-concentration and concentration-heavy tasks you want to pair up, be careful to select non-concentration tasks that are truly non-concentration. For instance, driving somewhere unfamiliar requires concentration, and likely isn’t a suitable activity to pair with a business call.

The Bottom Line

While it may be tempting to try to squeeze in multiple things at once, don’t fall for the multitasking myth. Multitasking may appear to be an effective time management strategy, but it often results in decreased productivity and increased stress. Instead, embrace better work habits and mindful multitasking to effectively manage your time and resources.

Need more support? Take our leadership assessment to understand your multitasking habits and learn how you can improve your time management skills.

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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