Why multitasking is bad for you

Multitasking isn’t what it seems. If you’ve ever been to a job interview, you’ve probably been asked about your multitasking skills. Although I knew then I wasn’t a multi-tasker, I’d obviously given them the answer I thought they wanted to hear. Yes. I am GREAT at multi-tasking. But the truth is: we’re all horrible at multitasking. We just vary on different levels of terrible. Yes, even as a woman. Apparently, you’re even worse at multitasking if you think you’re super at it.

There’s even academic research to back it up. Some researchers at Stanford University found that if you did two things at the same time, you’d spend an extra 50% longer than if you did them consecutively. There’s even some evidence that suggests that you’ll go on to make twice as many errors juggling two or more things at once (Peter Lapis in acuity magazine: August 2014, Vol. 1, Issue 2: Pages 34-35). 

If it’s so bad for us, then why do we do it? Why not just do things one at a time? The answer– like cheating– is the dopamine effect. The feel-good drug that makes not-so-great-behaviors become addictive. It’s not only mentally taxing, but it’s energy-sapping and stressful. You can bet that dopamine isn’t the only hormone being created every time you multitask.

Keep it simple, stupid. It’s really all about doing (and focusing) on one thing at a time. It means stop distracting yourself, and you’ll achieve greater things. Have you ever heard of anyone reading a book and playing a video game all at once and getting a high score and understanding the whole plot at the same time? Probably not. It’s okay to take breaks when you feel like you’re getting nowhere. This is helpful. But trying to divide your attention between things you shouldn’t be doing simultaneously isn’t. Try it. Maybe you’ll finally finish that blog post you were supposed to be working on.

So there’s the argument for why multitasking cripples productivity. What are your thoughts on multitasking?

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6 thoughts on “Why multitasking is bad for you

  1. I believe it. I feel so unproductive when I try to do multiple things at once. If I’m washing dishes and making dinner while talking on the phone, I realize that first, the person on the phone isn’t getting my undivided attention and I’m sure I missed half of the conversation anyway. Second, dinner is burning because I’m trying to wash dishes with a phone being held up to my ear with my shoulder, therefore I don’t have full functioning hands because I’ll end up dropping my phone in the soapy water. (I know, your going to say, “Why not put it on speaker”) because with the water running, banging of the dishes and all the other noise in the background, it’s that much harder to hear the conversation that I’m not really paying attention to anyway. Third, dishes aren’t really getting done because I’m using other dishes and pots and pans to make dinner not to mention, I’m still going to have to wash the dinner dishes after we’ve eaten. So yeah, one thing at a time. Haha.

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    1. That’s one thing I forgot to mention: the domino effect. Believe me, I’ve had a ruined breakfast because I tried listening to a podcast and making my oatmeal at the same time. I was trying to adjust the volume and everything just became one hot mess. I’m definitely not trying that again while washing dishes!

      And it’s true about about conversations- I’m actually heavily against the use of the speakerphone, since I can never actually here what they’re saying and I have to repeat myself so many times, it just becomes frustrating. So yes, for the sake of productivity and safety (and less ruined meals) I definitely advocate doing one thing at a time.

      Thanks for your comment, blueinsomniak.

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      1. My pleasure. Amen to less ruined meals. I know my family appreciates it more. Haha. On the other hand, when meals were ruined we would go out to eat. So, now I’m not sure. Lol… 😉

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  2. Interesting! I’ve heard about some of this research before, but like most everyone out there, I tend to ignore it and attempt to multi-task anyway. Maybe it’s just the dopamine talking, but I do find myself switching back and forth between tasks when I get bored or stuck, and then return to it and a lot of the times find I’m able to work through the issue. (Or I’ve just gotten to the point where I HAVE to work through it now…either way). There are definite moments where I focus for a long time, but sometimes making tasks fit into each other to be “more efficient” has that feel-good you’re talking about…and then you feel like your day was so productive at the end.

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    1. I definitely get what you mean. Research can be true and up-to-date but in the end, it’s really about how things make us feel. Case-in-point: plenty of research to back up why high heels are potentially damaging to women’s spines, but that hasn’t stopped women from buying them!

      When you’re bored or stuck and you choose to do something else, I’d say that’s adding to your productivity. It’s taking a break. Sometimes when you just hit a brick wall, you need to go somewhere else to find the answers. In the end, you find out where to go faster than if you had just forced yourself to think up a solution, in the midst of frustration.

      There’s also structuring your tasks, which is different from multi-tasking, as in I’ll do this for an hour and then work on that for 20 mins. I believe that may be what you’re doing, but I could be wrong. This is efficient, because you’re being mindful of what you’re doing at any time period.

      Anyway, I appreciate the comment and thanks for visiting!

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