They say men aren’t good at it.

Your bosses want you to be good at it.

And people think it’s necessary to survive in today’s world of business.

Everyone talks a lot about multitasking, but is it really as good as it’s made out to be?

Multitasking: All The World At Your Fingertips

We’ve never had as easy access to information as we do today. You get news from anywhere in the world delivered right to your computer thanks to the internet, and you can access it anywhere thanks to smartphones.

But all this bombardment of information has its costs… especially when you’re trying to keep up with everything at the same time.

Contrary to popular opinion, what we think of as “multitasking” isn’t doing four things at once; it’s more like doing several individual actions in quick succession.

Of course, it feels like the former, with your computer running six programs at once, and your phone at your side set to alert.

All of it certainly feels like juggling a dozen different things at once.

But it’s a lot more than just juggling because you’ve got more than just toys in the air.

Online Yet Disconnected: A Modern Irony

Let’s take a look at something that the majority of us do daily: texting while walking somewhere.

It sounds harmless enough, right?

But how many times have you bumped into something or missed your turn because you were on your phone?

And then there’s being on your phone while driving, which has obviously turned tragic in the past.

Multitasking does have some benefits, and it can even be necessary on the odd occasion. Research shows that those who multitask are actually better at integrating information from their sources.

But how does this affect how well your work was done? Compare something you spent five minutes working on, as opposed to the same thing but with 20 minutes put into it.

Which one’s better overall?

Which one would you rather present as an example of your work?

And even if you’re doing two things in parallel, instead of switching between several tasks, your performance still suffers. Studies show that, when you’re doing two things at once, your brain is actually paying less attention. We can already see what that means in terms of driving; so what about at work?

Of course, that’s just the immediate results. A study ran by a group of researchers from Stanford University found that people who habitually multitasked found that they were consistently distracted by irrelevant information, couldn’t organize memories properly, and even found it difficult to switch from one task to another. Trying to keep on top of everything at once can actually impair your ability to actually focus.

Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast

A lot of downsides in both the short-term and long-term means it’d truly be better to avoid multitasking. But in the hectic world of today, the question does come up: What do you do instead?

The answers are focus and priority.

Focus

First, focus. Tune out the irrelevant details that overload the mind, and focus only on what needs to be done. Put the phone down, disable email notifications, and look towards the task currently in front of you. Have you ever been in “the zone”? That state of flow where everything comes just so easily? You won’t get that when you’re bouncing around everything you have to do, so buckle down and set your mind to one thing.

You don’t have to be in the zone every day of work, but you have to give yourself the chance to get there. And if nothing else, a clear and calm environment makes for a much less stressful experience. That alone is worth your weight in gold.

Also, take a lesson from an environment that also deals with a great deal of stress: the military. The Navy SEALs have a saying: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Take your time, go through your tasks with care, and you won’t fumble. Since you won’t fumble, you won’t spend time fixing what you messed up, and the time saved can be devoted to other tasks.

Priority

Now, priority, or more accurately, prioritizing. Everything may feel urgent, but if everything is urgent, then the word loses its meaning. Examine your tasks, find out what really does need doing right now. Similarly, find out what’s going to take a long time to do, and what you can reliably polish off in a short time. There may be other factors at play; that’s for you to define yourself, but these are fairly common among most workplaces.

Once you’ve got your tasks appropriately categorized, get started on working through them. Truly urgent comes first, for instance. Depending on your preference, you might want to do the urgent-but-easy first, or focus on urgent-and-difficult. This is ultimately up to you and the precise tasks at hand. The important thing is that, once you’ve got your priorities straight, focus comes easier.

Another potential solution, if you really do need to switch between tasks, is something recommended by Clifford Nass of Stanford University, who ran the previously-mentioned study on multitasking. Nass recommends the “20-minute rule”: give one task your full attention for a period of 20 minutes before you go on to the next.

Conclusion

The hectic environment of today’s businesses, the ease of access to information, the ease of contacting other people, all these make it very easy to consider multitasking. Yet the very concept of it is problematic and even harmful to your focus and mind long term. It’s significantly more efficient to learn to prioritize your tasks and therefore be capable of focusing on them.

They say men aren’t good at it. Your bosses want you to be good at it. And people think it’s necessary to survive in today’s world of business. Everyone talks a lot about multitasking, but is it really as good as it’s made out to be?

Yuyu

I am a Front-end developer, design lover, coffee addict, technology enthusiast. Has strong passion for productivity, new ideas and problem solving.

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