Multitasking is seen as an art. The ability to do multiple things simultaneously is a skill honed by busy parents everywhere and employees in just about every profession.
Yet research has shown that we aren’t good at doing several things at once, even as technology makes it easier than ever to do just that.
Let’s take a look at some multitasker myths to put the notion that multitasking is a good thing to rest, once and for all.
Myth #1: Being a Multitasker Makes You More Efficient
While there are some tasks that can be done simultaneously, like checking email while talking on the phone, it’s impossible to actually focus on both tasks at once. The multitaker’s brain is actually switching back and forth between reading the email her boss just sent and listening to her sister’s story about her nephew’s touchdown, rather than devoting full attention to either effort. According to a 2003 multitasking study in the International Journal of Information Management, the average person checks their email every five minutes, and it takes 64 seconds to get back to the task you were doing before checking your email. This means one out of every six minutes is wasted.
Myth #2: A Multitasker Has a Higher Productivity Level
It might seem logical that if a person can get two things done at once he’s being more productive. But this is only true if the multitasker is doing tasks right the first time around and isn’t having to correct errors because he wasn’t fully paying attention and the quality of his work was sub-par. Not only is the multitasker wasting time adjusting his brain to focus back and forth between multiple activities, he’s increasing the possibility of making a mistake. If the multitasker was rushing through an activity initially because he didn’t have enough time to fully devote to it, he’s only setting himself back further by having to do it all over again.
Myth #3: A Multitasker Prioritizes Well
When you have so many things to do, getting them done in order of priority is a must. Yet when you decide to prioritize everything, you’re actually prioritizing nothing. A multitasker tends to take on several responsibilities concurrently, which slows down the ability to complete any one task quickly. Partially completing several tasks all at once can lead to feeling overwhelmed. Instead, focusing all one’s attention on a single task until completion before moving on to the next can be a more successful strategy. Look at every task you need to get done and order them by how important they are or when they need to be finished. Then go through your list one by one, completing each task with your full attention.
The key takeaway from these multitasker myths is to remember this: doing more things doesn’t get them all done faster—or well. Choose one thing you can do at a time, and you’ll get it done more quickly and achieve better overall results.
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