In today’s modern society, people often pride themselves on their ability to do more than one task at once. Texting while walking or responding to emails while talking on the phone has become a society norm. It is not uncommon to see people attempting to juggle 3-4 tasks at once all under the pretext of multitasking. Some people even go so far as to list multitasking as a valuable skill on their professional resumes. People like to believe that they can effectively increase their productivity by handling more than one task at a time but does multitasking really work? Does your level of productivity actually increase when focusing on multiple items at once?
In actuality, evidence has shown that people are not really multitasking at all. In fact, they are really just rapidly switching between multiple tasks not focusing on multiple items at once. Have you ever tried reading a report and responding to emails all while participating in a meeting? Did you temporarily lose focus on what was being said in the meeting? You may have missed a key point or asked someone to repeat themselves. You also probably had to reread a sentence of the report or review the email more than once. This happens because you are actually just rapidly switching your attention from one item to the next not equally focusing on all items at once.
Attempting to focus on multiple items at once is actually proven to decrease your productivity. Experts estimate that productivity actually decreases by upwards of 40% when people attempt to multitask. You waste valuable energy constantly switching gears from one task to another. You have to constantly reacquaint yourself with each item slowing your progress down. Each task ends up taking longer to complete than it would if you had focused solely on one project at a time. Since you are constantly focused on switching between tasks, the quality of your work actually decreases as well. Why would you want to decrease your productivity and lower your quality of work? Instead of attempting to multitask, maximize productivity by writing effective to-do lists that allow you to focus your energy on completing one item at a time. Group like items together on your to-do list to really maximize productivity.
Not only does multitasking decrease your productivity and quality of your work, experts also believe that it can cause an increase in your stress level. It has been linked to an increase in the production of cortisol which is commonly referred to as the stress hormone. Elevated levels of cortisol over a long period of time can cause high blood pressure and damage the heart. Stress can have other side effects on you as well such as an upset stomach, constant headaches, and low energy.
Multitasking can also lead to weight gain. In a typical office setting, it is common to see employees eating their lunches in front of their computer screens. They mindlessly eat while catching up on emails or finishing up projects. Since they are distracted by focusing on multiple items at once, they are not really paying attention to how much food is being consumed. Their brain is not able to register that they are full until it is too late and have already overeaten. Eating dinner in front of the TV or snacking at your desk can have the same affect and cause you to gain weight.
Don’t let the hype around multitasking fool you. In order to really be productive and maximize your work day, focus your energy on one item at a time!