The True Costs of Multitasking: Uncovering Myths

By
on May 28#best-practices

The tricky thing about multitasking is that even though you may feel like you are being more productive, in reality, you are likely actually losing productivity in the process. When we are jumping between action items, we aren't getting more done. In fact, we are just forcing our brains to continually flip gears causing exhaustion and lower quality outcomes of work. It's difficult to stop multitasking overall, but through understanding common multitasking myths, or behaviors we can take actions to correct suit.

It is estimated that only 2% of the population is actually good at multitasking - yet, ironically this 2% is unlikely to multitask. However, the majority of us (myself included) often find ourselves thinking we are part of that 2%.

University of Utah's Department of Psychology studied the perceptions of multitasking and stated this:

"Perceptions of the ability to multitask were found to be badly inflated; in fact, the majority of participants judged themselves to be above average in the ability to multitask. These estimations had little grounding in reality as perceived multitasking ability was not significantly correlated with actual multitasking ability."

Common types of multitasking

Did you know there are multiple, and common, ways we typically multitask? Yep! Here are the three main types of multitasking:

Two-task bait and switch:

It shouldn't be surprising that one of the most common forms of multitasking is the classic example of working on two projects at once. This could be something like driving while talking on the phone, or something more complex like strategizing and designing all at once.

Starting something new before finishing previous task:

It can be tempting to start something new before switching to a new task. However, not only does this challenge our intrinsic motivational factors, but it also makes us less efficient. We've all been there when an urgent project comes up and you aren't *quite* done with the previous task, but motivational experts say - stay your course, finish the task at hand - and then move forward to the next project or task at hand.

Completing multiple tasks in rapid succession:

While this might not feel like multitasking - it is. And our brains need time to process and regroup in between tasks.

None of these types of multitasking are worse or better than another, but by being aware of what they are you can identify ways to improve yourself. By knowing when you are getting stuck in the multitask grind, it's easier to pull yourself out of it.

The tricky thing about multitasking is that even though you may feel like you are being more productive, in reality, you are likely actually losing productivity in the process. When we are jumping between action items, we aren't getting more done. In fact, we are just forcing our brains to continually flip gears causing exhaustion and lower quality outcomes of work. It's difficult to stop multitasking overall, but through understanding common multitasking myths, or behaviors we can take actions to correct suit.

It is estimated that only 2% of the population is actually good at multitasking - yet, ironically this 2% is unlikely to multitask. However, the majority of us (myself included) often find ourselves thinking we are part of that 2%.

University of Utah's Department of Psychology studied the perceptions of multitasking and stated this:

"Perceptions of the ability to multitask were found to be badly inflated; in fact, the majority of participants judged themselves to be above average in the ability to multitask. These estimations had little grounding in reality as perceived multitasking ability was not significantly correlated with actual multitasking ability."

Common types of multitasking

Did you know there are multiple, and common, ways we typically multitask? Yep! Here are the three main types of multitasking:

Two-task bait and switch:

It shouldn't be surprising that one of the most common forms of multitasking is the classic example of working on two projects at once. This could be something like driving while talking on the phone, or something more complex like strategizing and designing all at once.

Starting something new before finishing previous task:

It can be tempting to start something new before switching to a new task. However, not only does this challenge our intrinsic motivational factors, but it also makes us less efficient. We've all been there when an urgent project comes up and you aren't *quite* done with the previous task, but motivational experts say - stay your course, finish the task at hand - and then move forward to the next project or task at hand.

Completing multiple tasks in rapid succession:

While this might not feel like multitasking - it is. And our brains need time to process and regroup in between tasks.

None of these types of multitasking are worse or better than another, but by being aware of what they are you can identify ways to improve yourself. By knowing when you are getting stuck in the multitask grind, it's easier to pull yourself out of it.

"When you multitask, you believe you’re being exceptionally productive, but really, you’re fooling yourself. Each time you switch tasks, you have to backtrack a little and remind yourself where you are in the process and what’s next. Invariably. you are spending twice as much time on parts of the task.”

- Karen Finerman

Tips to reduce multitasking

  • Segment your days. Break your days out into both complex, and easy tasks giving your brain a chance to regroup.

  • Schedule related tasks together. If you're working on similar tasks that require the same mental energy, block them together that way you won't have to refocus energy too much when you move on to the next segment of work.

  • Prioritize your day with a to-do list. Make a to-do list that works best for your brain, and leaves the multitasking at bay.

  • One task approach. Plan to work on simply one task at a time. It can be per hour, per day, however, works best for you depending on the task. But if you dedicate yourself to simply working on one task at a time, you will diminish the time spent multitasking.

Putting an end to multitasking with a PMS

“Multitasking divides your attention and leads to confusion and weakened focus.”

- Deepak Chopra

Workast makes it possible for teams to plan, organize, delegate tasks, and follow them through to completion. Without the distractions and hustle of running a million programs, Workast's all-in-one suite helps you get more done.

Whether it's personal or organizational tasks, one way to get more done in less time is to recognize that multitasking can lead to productivity loss.

How do you put an end to multitasking? We'd love to hear your tips and stories! Send us a line or drop us a tweet for your chance to get featured on our blog.

Put an end to multitasking, and sign up for a free account with Workast today!

Further reading? Try testing out a different technique or style of work to diminish multitasking. Take a look into the Pomodoro Method or the Agile Methodolgy system to see if changing up the way in which you work helps you to eliminate multitasking.

Here's to getting more done!

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