Productivity Improvement | 05.16.2015

If Multitasking Is Counterproductive, Why Do We Still Do It?

We are all aware of the major sources of stress in our life – money, long commutes, soaring deadlines, hyperactive children…the list can go on. But apart from the obvious sources, stress builds up to the point of explosion mainly because of low grade challenges. These challenges, though seemingly not overwhelming, do take a toll on your sense of balance in the long run making you anxious, agitated and definitely less productive.

Surprisingly, multitasking is one of the major contributors to stress and yet routinely we overlook it. We continue in our pursuit of excellence, juggling multiple tasks all at once, thinking that our productivity levels are soaring while the reality is the exact opposite. Keeping this in mind we recently posted a question for discussion in the Workplace, Productivity, HR and Leadership groups on LinkedIn about multitasking asking why despite knowing that multitasking is counterproductive we still continue to do it? This discussion brought some very interesting observations regarding the multitasking practice, some of which we would like to outline here

Multitasking – a cultural norm

Today multitasking has almost become a cultural norm. A look at some of the job boards confirms this fact when multitasking is stated as an expected skill! Overly driven managers and organizations should bear in mind that “Our brains are not wired to multitask. Though we think they’re handling multiple activities at the same time, what they’re really doing is constantly switching between them” says Earl Miller, professor of neuroscience at MIT.

Improper Prioritization

One of the major reasons why we multitask is because of improper prioritization. There is a thin line that separates the ‘urgent’ from the ‘important’. Workers mostly prioritize work on the basis of the ‘due date’. However, when the additional work is put on their plate, the same workers are unable to assess what they need to finish first, which leads to multitasking.

It feels good

With numerous avenues for electronic communication, doing multiple things at the same time has a feel good factor associated with it. Neuro-science has shown the “ding” of “you have a message” causes the brain to secrete a bit of dopamine leaving us hooked to multitasking.

Poor goal setting

In the absence of clearly defined and well- articulated goals, workers go through their day like a hamster on a wheel, functioning on auto pilot. It also renders them incapable of ignoring things and managing distractions. They thus cannot filter out what is irrelevant to their present goals which ultimately leads to poor organizational skills and ultimately to multitasking to ‘get the job done’.

Since our brain is programmed to only have a finite amount of attention span, multitasking, which actually is only task-switching, wastes our time and productivity. The antidote to this problem is mindfulness and mono-tasking. You might not believe it, but completing one project at a time will save you a lot more time and make you a great deal more productive instead of jumping back and forth on two projects simultaneously. What’s more, if you increase focus on a task at hand and work on it mindfully, you reduce your chances of errors dramatically thereby shortening the time spent to complete the task considerably. So assess your work schedule, create a priority list, designate task times, tune out from technological disruptions and get to the work at hand. And if you are worried that you won’t be able to strike off your to-do list without multitasking, don’t worry: You’ll have enough and more time to do it all.

Read the full discussion here