Side-Note: As a bit of an experiment, this post was mostly written by ChatGPT and edited by me (here are the requests I used). Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Multitasking is often described as a way of getting more done by juggling multiple tasks simultaneously. The truth is, multitasking is a productivity myth. In fact, trying to do too many things at once can actually be detrimental to your overall productivity. So why is multitasking a productivity myth, and what should you be doing instead? Let's take a closer look.
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THE PROBLEM WITH MULTITASKING
At its core, multitasking is the act of attempting to do more than one thing at the same time. For example, you might be typing an email while talking on the phone, or checking your social media notifications while attending a meeting. On the surface, this might seem like an efficient way to get more done in less time. After all, if you can accomplish two tasks at once, why not?
The reality, however, is that multitasking is rarely as effective as it seems. In fact, research has shown that attempting to do more than one thing at a time can actually reduce your productivity and increase the likelihood of mistakes. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Multitasking increases stress levels.
When you're trying to do too many things at once, your brain has to constantly switch between tasks. This can cause a spike in stress hormones like cortisol, which can make you feel overwhelmed and can even lead to burnout.
2. Multitasking reduces accuracy.
When you're trying to focus on more than one thing at a time, it's easy to make mistakes. For example, you might accidentally send an email to the wrong person, or miss an important detail in a conversation. These errors can be costly, both in terms of time and money. It's better to do one thing at a time and do it well vs. two things at once and do them poorly.
3. Multitasking slows you down.
Despite what you might think, multitasking doesn't actually save time. In fact, research has shown that it can take up to 40% longer to complete a task when you're trying to do multiple things at once. This is because your brain has to switch between tasks, reducing your focus meaning it takes longer overall to do each one.
4. Multitasking reduces creativity.
When you're constantly switching between tasks, it's hard to get into a state of flow. This is the mental state where you're fully absorbed in what you're doing, and ideas and insights come naturally. Multitasking can make it difficult to think deeply and creatively about a particular problem or project.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD OF MULTITASKING
If multitasking is a productivity myth, what should you be doing instead? Here are a few strategies to consider:
1. Prioritise your tasks.
Rather than trying to do everything at once, focus on one task at a time. Start by making a list of everything you need to accomplish (I like doing this in Asana), and then prioritise those tasks based on their importance and urgency. Then, work on one task at a time, starting with the most important or time-sensitive item on your list.
2. Use time blocking.
Time blocking is a productivity technique that involves scheduling specific blocks of time for certain tasks. For example, you might block off 9-10am for email, 10-11am for a meeting, and so on. This helps you stay focused on one task at a time, and can also help you manage your time more effectively.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present and fully engaged in the current moment. When you're mindful, you're less likely to get distracted by other tasks or thoughts. I meditate most weekdays using Headspace and this helps set me up for the day by bringing me into the present moment.
4. Take breaks.
Taking regular breaks throughout the day can actually improve your productivity. When you're working on a task for an extended period of time, your brain can become fatigued, which can lead to decreased focus and productivity.
I start my day around 6:30am and usually take my first break at 8:30am to drop my son at daycare and get a coffee. I’ll also go for a walk at lunch to stretch my legs and get some oxygen flowing. I find this means I don’t experience any mid-afternoon lulls in energy.
5. Batch similar tasks together.
Another way to improve your productivity is to batch similar tasks together. For example, you might schedule a block of time for all of your email-related tasks, or a block of time for all of your phone calls. This helps you stay focused on one type of task at a time (but feels like multitasking).
6. Learn to say no.
One of the biggest culprits of multitasking is over-commitment. If you're constantly saying yes to every request that comes your way, you're likely spreading yourself too thin. Learning to say no can help you avoid taking on too much and reduce the need for multitasking.
What do you do to stay focussed on a single task at a time? Let me know in the comments below!