In today’s competitive world, many people multitask to deliver results on time. They work harder and for longer hours, toggling between tasks in the belief that it makes them more productive. However, experts say that multitasking actually has the opposite effect and kills efficiency and creativity. In fact, successful businesses have realized this and prefer to outsource tasks such as data entry, document scanning, book keeping, HR, and business transcription rather than do them in-house. Outsourcing these functions allows employees focus on what they do best. Multitasking is no longer considered a desirable trait and modern businesses are realizing the benefits of not requiring employees to switch between tasks.
Multitasking involves juggling different tasks and shifting attention from one work activity to another. Many people usually fail with multitasking as they end up doing too many things at the same time. Here are ten reasons why experts say you shouldn’t multitask:
- Increases stress: Managers who are in the habit of multitasking can have a ripple effect on their team with undesirable effects, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article. In a study of several companies, the authors found a significant and consistent correlation “between the amount of time managers send email and organize meetings after-hours and the amount of time their direct reports do the same”. They report that when managers start their work week on Sunday night, those directly reporting to them follow their example. Studies have found that working overtime affects family life and also increases employee stress.
- Affects IQ: An article published by the University of Southern California discusses a study which found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks had a lower IQ score similar to those who stayed up all night. The University of London researchers who conducted the study reported that some men who multitasked had their IQ drop 15 points, so that they were left with the average IQ of an 8-year-old child!
- Kills creativity: According to a study from the University of Illinois, multitasking uses up a lot of working memory and affects the ability to perform well on creative problem-solving tasks.
- Affects productivity and efficiency: When you multitask, your attention is divided, which prevents you from giving 100 percent to any task. As you cannot give focus and attention to what you need to be working on, it affects your productivity. Also, when multitasking, the USC article points out that you take extra time to mentally switch between tasks. Your brain has to shift from the cognitive rules of one task and turn on new rules for the next one. Such switching processes can reduce efficiency in the workplace.
- You’re not good at multitasking: According to a 2013 University of Utah study, those who think they are master multitaskers are probably among the worst! The study found that those who usually talk and drive simultaneously, however, scored worse on the tests, though most of them had said they had above average multitasking skills. An article in GoodTherapy.org cites an expert as saying that more you multitask, the less you are able to concentrate, learn, and even be nice to people.
- Stands in the way of OHIO – Only Handle it Once: The OHIO principle advocates that if you take something on, don’t stop until you’ve finished it. For instance, when you read an email, you should decide whether you need to respond, and do so immediately. If you’re a multitasker, you would most likely put this off and go on to something else. The result is that you may end up handling a task five or six times.
- Can be risky: Driving while talking on the cell phone is a risky habit. Driving is a visual task while taking on the phone is an auditory one and this type of multitasking involves the use of two separate brain regions at the same time and is as dangerous as driving drunk. People who talk on their mobile phone while walking are also at risk as they are less likely to pay attention while walking in traffic.
The problem is that most workers have the tendency to do more than one task at a time. An article in Fortune offers the following tips to avoid multitasking from an MIT neuroscientist:
- First, block out a period of time to focus
- Do away with as many distractions as possible, that is, put away your phone, shut extra computer screens, and if possible, sign out of your email.
- Don’t rely on just willpower try to avoid multitasking and focus on one task. Prevent the urge to juggle work activities by removing pull factors. If you cannot limit focus to one thing, take a short break and move around. Increasing blood flow to your brain can improve concentration.
- Finally, don’t use your phone-not even with headsets-when you driving or walking on the street.
The key to avoiding multitasking is to list jobs in order of priority and perform them in that order, working diligently on the task you are doing at each point of time.