The Myth of Multitasking: 7 unforgivable sins of multitasking

This post is for eager multitaskers juggling several tasks at once. We discuss the drawbacks of multitasking and indicate how to keep productive without falling a victim to busyness.

The Myth of Multitasking: 7 unforgivable sins of multitasking

Multitasking defintion, as the entry in Britannica suggests, refers to computing and means:

... the running of multiple programs (sets of instructions) in one computer at the same time.

However, outside dictionaries and encyclopedias, multitasking mostly relates to our juggling abilities at work. But if someone claims to be a multitasking wonder, it invokes contradictory reactions ranging from loathing to worshipping and translates in quotes of total opposition like:

Multitasking means screwing up several things at once.

and

Multitasking is a part of my everyday life.

Is it possible to multitask?  We intend to prove that aside from the small good that juggling skills bring to your life, multitasking examples convincingly demonstrate that believing in a myth of multitasking is mostly harmful.

Below, there are 7 unforgivable sins of multitasking we should be aware of.

Going Goalless

rabbits jumping

However proud we can feel about keeping all the balls in the air and dealing with several jobs simultaneously, in the long run nothing can beat Confucius' wisdom when he was saying: "The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither".🐇🐇

This is not something new. Why does it seem that our productivity and efficiency is lacking whenever we are doing more than one thing at a time?

Let's say you answer text messages while you’re working on a presentation for a meeting you have that day. Guess what? It’s going to be the most unorganized presentation ever.

Context✍ Excessive multitasking is ineffective and blocks goal achievement. Our capacity for maintaining attention is limited, and single tasking rather than multitasking is one of the ways to preserve it and divide it wisely.

Ok, what is the top tip?🎯 Pause to ask yourself what exactly you are doing and what, ultimately, you want to achieve. It helps regain focus, improves self-confidence and reduces fear of failure.

Being Interrupted. Again

post-it notes

What we know about tackling several problems at once from multitasking research lets us see that in actuality, we don't do many things at once. If we work fast, it means that we switch tasks very quickly. There is no doubt that high performers are very good at it. But here is the tricky part.

While timely switching is surely propelling you forward by creating the unbroken workflow, interruptions can be detrimental and cause mistakes. Indeed, in case of lacking planning capacities, task switching fails and interruptions begin.

Context✍ Multitasking, in practicality, is self-imposed interrupting.

Ok, what is the top tip?🎯 To minimize interruptions and maximize quality of work,  combat the urge of multitasking by switching not earlier than after the certain time interval. Use automatic time tracking for calculations and Pomodoro technique for setting intervals.  

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Feeling Exhausted  

abstract picture

The human brain developed a huge capacity for intelligence and interaction but taking advantage of it by enforced multitasking will certainly not do it any good.

If your mind is occupied with multiple tasks at once, it can signal a bigger challenge for your brain.

We can rapidly alternate between no more than 2–3 items, which puts a limit to our attention span.

When you are multitasking, you need to increase self-control for maintaining prioritized and focused thinking. It means that in addition to impeccable time management skills, multitaskers need more resources for stress management.  

Context✍ Can you stay focused on what is important when you brain has to solve more tasks that you add to the list without a pause?

Ok, what is the top tip?🎯 Start with taking one step at a time and prioritize planning and single tasking: it will keep you from exhaustion or energy depletion.

Mixing Up Priorities

why you need to prioritize

In key ways, multitasking mechanism is similar to multiple investment choices. Multitaskers try to 'buy' doing two (or more) things fairly thinking that not to miss all possible benefits is their right.

But since the attention is limited, 'purchase' comes with a requirement of allocating more resources. In multitasking mode, we rarely calculate what it can cost.  

The law of opportunity cost states that we cannot give undivided attention equally to two things at once.

Context✍ By sticking to the idea of multitasking with its ingrained belief that you have found the way to get more done, you are only throwing your time and energy into a task that may not be worthy of being on your priority list.  

Ok, what is the top tip?🎯 Once you set your top priority list for the day, force yourself to follow it. It will put you in deep work mode and bring the desired results.

Failing strategically

the sea

The key factor in setting an execution plan is framing the task. Building a strategy around single tasking lets deal with upcoming projects as if you were reading from a script, or from the beginning to the end of the process rather than backtracking, and sequencing multiple tasks performance in review.

Context✍ An important part of the execution plan is collecting and storing task performance information for building the most successful strategy. Multitasking ruins the connection of strategy and execution. Not being able to focus on a task with intensity causes juggling and prioritizing tactical rather than strategic thinking.

Ok, what is the top tip?🎯 Highlight your mission, vision, and high-level goals, and how you are achieving them. Single tasking takes a productivity crown in strategic building.  

Set parameters to help accomplish the task. Working from a specific time or end date is very useful in working through issues. Having parameters in place and a set timeline also keeps the details of the process in front of you to help maintain focus on what's critical from the strategic point of view.

Lowering Communicating Expectations

positive communication outcomes

Communication is the building block of success in collaboration on any project. Even in a tiny social interaction, communication outcome can be critical.

Trying to squeeze communication as the 'background' while performing other tasks can have a negative impact not only on performance of the specific tasks but on business productivity overall.  

Context✍ Texting and browsing while speaking to the other person is not only rude but asking for low communicating expectations. Synchronous communication demands your immediate attention. When you have a high priority task at hand that requires communication, give yourself enough mental space by excluding the chance of unnecessary intrusions.

Ok, what is the top tip?🎯 To rise the bar of expectations to the level of positive communication outcomes, give the undivided attention to the person. It will eliminate the miscommunication scenario. We have a finite amount of time to be in contact with someone, so the listener needs to be the one that is the most interested.

Hindering Progress

words are you making progress

When working under time pressure, the temptation of multitasking increases as it seems logical that multiple-of infinity tasks can bring faster progress but, in reality, trying to handle too many things can arrest development and hinder the processes.

Context✍  A big downside of multitasking is the exposure to a variety of areas. When you lack time for identifying your development goals, this exposure might be conflicting and, thus, reduce your chance not only to complete but accomplish the task.  

Ok, what is the top tip?🎯 If necessary, make it a special task to document and communicate progress. Modern task management technology provides an opportunity to find time for a full view on what we do and why we do it. Seeing momentum puts you in control and lets keep focus on single tasking.

Additionally, use task tracking information including time metrics for analysis of your performance and evaluating the actual progress.