Corporate Wellness

5 Reasons Why You Should Stop Multitasking Now

You might think that multitasking is a trick to success, but research shows that is far from the truth. From actually hampering your productivity to affecting your mental health, here are all the reasons you should stop multitasking.

By Shreya Maji
20 Oct 2021

With our ever-growing list of things to get done in a day and not enough hours to do them in, we are all guilty of multitasking. Especially in the day of increasing digital dependency, it seems natural to slip into a habit of answering work emails, doom-scrolling through Instagram, and reading the latest news updates all at once. But doing more than one task at once is possible only when the tasks are simple and do not require concentration, such as listening to music while driving, or eating popcorn while watching a movie. Think about when you have to answer a call over the phone while watching the same movie-your divided concentration will make you miss out on parts of the movie, and you will also be unable to pay attention to your conversation because your brain can only focus on one task at a time.

When you try to do multiple tasks that demand your cognitive attention, you are not actually doing all tasks simultaneously, but the brain is rapidly switching between them. This results in what is known as switch cost: the time that you lose to refocus on a new activity. A study by the University of California in 2015 showed that it can take anywhere between 3 to 25 minutes for people to successfully start a new task while doing something else. This means that multitasking not only eats into your time but also reduces your overall productivity.

While multitasking is often hailed as a skill, extensive research shows that our brains simply do not have the capability to multitask successfully. According to a 2019 research article published in Cerebrum, heavy multitaskers have a worse time processing and retaining important information than those who focus on single tasks. If you are prone to multitasking, then it might be time to rethink your working process for the following reasons.


1. You are actually being less productive

A study conducted by Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that multitasking can greatly reduce your productivity. This is because when your brain is moving to and fro between multiple tasks, it is difficult for you to give the attention needed to complete a single one. A 2021 report by the Association of Computing Machinery shows that multitasking specifically during remote meetings increases inattention and reduces productivity.


2. Multitasking is slowing you down

Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is not actually saving you time. Apart from the switch cost, when you move from one activity to another, your brain needs to go through two energy-intensive stages: goal shifting (adjusting to the goals of your new task) and role activation (understanding what needs to be done). As we are not machines, this understandably takes us some time. This is also backed up by an American study reported in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology, which found that students were up to 40 percent slower in solving math problems when they had to switch to other tasks in between.
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3. Your memory is suffering when you multitask

Multiple studies show that multitaskers have reduced short-term and long-term memory because of their low attention span. Research conducted by Stanford University for longer than a decade concluded that people who tend to move between many tasks at once retain less information, making them struggle to complete even simple memory tests.


4. You will make more mistakes

This is one of the more obvious consequences of multitasking. When your attention is divided and you are rushing through your work, it is easy to make mistakes or overlook them. Bestselling author Peter Bregman wrote an essay in Harvard Business Review about an experiment on multitasking where he tried to send a simple email while on a conference call, and it took him two extra emails to apologise for mistakes made in the first one, while also missing out on a part of the call. Multitasking removes any inclination of proper organisation and paying attention to details, thus causing many errors.


5. It may affect your mental health

Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke, psychologists at Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, noted that after 20 minutes of interrupting their own work with other tasks, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort and pressure. A 2015 study by University of California shows that even when you are actually getting all your work done, multitasking makes you feel less productive, which causes feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness with your work. All of this can affect your mental wellbeing, and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.


How to Stop Multitasking

  • Create a routine with all the tasks that you need to do on a daily and weekly basis. This will help you understand how much time you need in your day to get your work done, let you prioritise deadlines and urgent tasks as needed, and help schedule your activities accordingly.
  • Try the Pomodoro method. This is a technique where you set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on a single task for that duration, followed by a break of 5 minutes, after which you move on to a new task for another 25 minutes. This method increases efficiency by getting you into a good flow of work and you can focus better after the short breaks.
  • Turn off your app notifications. According to a 2019 study conducted on more than 50,000 American office goers, most people open their email inbox and messaging apps every 6 minutes, with 35 percent people checking their notifications every 3 minutes, leading to huge loss in overall work time. Cut down on distractions by muting app notifications and checking these apps in fixed intervals to stop multitasking.
  • Learn to say no to extra work. We often get stuck with extra workload or too many commitments in a day because we are unable to say no, be it to our friends or colleagues, which forces us to multitask. Take up tasks or commit to events based on your capabilities.


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