Why Multitasking is a Poor Approach to Productivity

multitasking and stress

Have you ever had a great idea pop into your head right before you got distracted by something? Did you find it difficult to recall your idea once you were able to shift your focus back again?

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This is actually quite common, and whether you’re aware of it or not, it’s one of the many consequences and frustrations of multitasking. And unfortunately, the disadvantages of multitasking go much deeper than the frustration of losing an occasional good idea.

Multitasking is a source of stress

As a reader of Advanced Life Skills, you probably already know that humans are inherently bad at multitasking and that it’s a poor strategy for productivity. What you might not realize is that multitasking and frequent interruptions are sources of stress that can have a notable impact on your health and sense of well being.

Despite the fact that multitasking is generally regarded as inefficient by most experts, research has shown that multitasking can increase productivity to some extent. This increase likely results from the mental pressure and sense of urgency that it imposes. However, this pressure is a form of stress that will trigger a physiological stress response. That means that frequent multitasking can quickly become a source of chronic stress. Over time this stress will hinder your ability to focus and could even compromise your health.

Multitasking and focus

The human mind works best when focusing on a single thread of related thoughts. But multitasking requires that we try to focus on multiple unrelated thoughts at the same time. To our nervous system it’s like being constantly interrupted which can be quite frustrating, especially when facing the pressure of a deadline.

Even if multitasking does increase productivity temporally, it is not sustainable as a long term strategy. Over time, as the resulting stress accumulates, inability to focus will become more prominent, and both productivity and ability to cope will suffer.

The vicious circle of multitasking

Habitual multitasking will keep you very busy, but your ability to complete even short term goals will likely be compromised. This often results in an empty feeling because you’ve been busy all day but haven’t accomplished much. Like a vicious circle, lack of accomplishment leads to frustration, stress, and a return to multitasking in order to make up for lost time.

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Who you are today is the culmination of the many small decisions you’ve made each day throughout your life. If there’s a difference between who you are today and who you want to be in the future, you’ll need to make sure that as many of your future decisions are congruent with your goals. The only way this will happen is if you regularly prioritize the tasks that will be most influential in bringing you closer to your goals and give them the dedicated and uninterrupted attention that they deserve.

5 Tips for avoiding the stress of multitasking

The following 5 tips are designed to help you reduce your perceived need to multitask.

1) Prioritize. Each morning, prepare a task list for the day and prioritize the tasks by importance in relation to your most important goals. Focus on those first and leave the less important tasks for another day if you run out of time for them.

2) Start early. Get to work on your most important tasks early in the day so that you don’t run out of time.

3) Limit distractions. If you’re working on a computer, close down all windows that aren’t necessary for the task at hand, especially things like email, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.

4) Silence your phone. If possible, shut off your cell phone for a while to avoid unnecessary interruption.

5) Control your workplace. Work in an environment that is conducive to focus. If necessary, isolate yourself from people who might unnecessarily interrupt or distract you.

Choose focus instead of multitasking

The temptation to resort to multitasking can be strong when there’s a lot that needs to be done. But if you choose to focus on one task at a time according to priority you will accomplish more with less stress.

Accomplishing more will leaving you feeling more productive while also creating more time to things that you want to do. If you still think multitasking is a good idea, try this strategy for one week and compare the results. I think the results alone will make a believer out of you!

How do you feel about multitasking?
Does it increase stress or help you get more done?
The lines are open!

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