What Is Multitasking and What to Do About It?
What is multitasking? Is it possible to do more than one thing at a time if you are not a computer? Does it help you be more productive? Yevheniia Prysiazhna, Lead Communications Specialist at EPAM, tries to find the answers to these questions.
In this article
What is multitasking?
— The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “multitasking” as:
1) “the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer”, or
2) “the performance of multiple tasks at one time.”
Here’s the truth about multitasking: unless you’re a computer, you can’t actually do it well.
According to researchers, multitasking makes you less productive. Even the brief mental blocks caused by shifting between tasks can cost you up to 40% of your productive time. On the contrary, when you focus on one thing at a time, the brain is able to zone in and filter out the rest, leaving more of your brain’s resources available to what you are actually doing.
If we’ve understood that multitasking doesn’t work for decades now, why has it become such a talked-about issue recently? Maybe it’s because today’s busy professionals have so many more things competing for their attention. Think about all the notifications that pop up on your monitor while you’re trying to concentrate — how many unread messages do you have right now?
What can you do about it?
1. Make an effort to do tasks one at a time. Stick with one item until completion if you can. If your attention starts to wane (typically after about 18 minutes), you can switch to a new task, but take a moment to leave yourself a note about where you were with the first one. Then give the new task your full attention, again for as long as you can.
2. Prioritize tasks. Identify which tasks are most important and time-sensitive. Use techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix to categorize tasks and focus on what matters most.
3. Know when to close the door. In olden times, people did this when they had to work hard on something. Doing the same thing to the electronic equivalent is perhaps even more important if you want to be productive and creative. Set aside time when people know you are going to focus.
4. Admit that not all information is useful. Consider which communications are worthy of interrupting you, and what new data you should seek out. When doing a Google search or checking social networks, ask if you are just accessing links that confirm what you already believe or those that challenge those beliefs.
5. Try to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness can help train your brain to slow down and focus on what’s happening in the present moment. This can make you less likely to give in to distraction and improve your ability to maintain your attention for longer periods of time. Practicing mindfulness can also help you reduce stress and alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
Here are 5 steps to get started:
Dedicate a specific time each day for mindfulness practice. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you won't be disturbed.
Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. As thoughts or emotions arise, simply notice them without judgment and gently redirect your focus to your breath.
Mindfulness involves accepting your experiences without resistance. Allow your thoughts and emotions to come and go.
Practice mindfulness during routine activities like eating, walking, or washing dishes. Focus your attention fully on the activity.
Make mindfulness a daily habit, integrating it into your routine, and you’ll notice how it affects your overall well-being.
In summary, while multitasking may seem like an attractive way to manage tasks, it often leads to reduced focus, lower quality work, increased stress, and negative impact on both productivity and well-being. Instead, adopting strategies of single-task focus and effective time management can yield better results and a more balanced approach to work and life.