March 28, 2019 Amanda Smith

Multitasking: Let Go of the Illusion (Part 1)

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Multitasking might be the most commonly used word we use to describe our working lives here in the 21st Century. Our identities are wrapped up in that word. We like to describe ourselves as multitaskers. We like to think of ourselves as people who are successfully juggling our responsibilities and Having It All. We like to see ourselves getting a lot of things done at once.

The trouble is, multitasking is an illusion. Sure, you might be able to do two tasks at once if they’re both deeply ingrained and rote or if they involve very different parts of your thought process, which is why you can usually listen to music while driving without becoming a menace. However, even this type of “multitasking” has its limits, which is why you have to turn off the music when you’re looking for a street address.

So sometimes we instinctively know when our brains can’t process more than one thing at a time, but as “multitasking” has become more part of the normal state of work, we’re less apt to recognize and follow those instincts. When we’re doing what we usually think of as multitasking — tackling two or more tasks simultaneously — what we’re really doing is task-switching.

We’re Losing Time

Task-switching means we’re not doing two things in the seamless and efficient manner we think we are. It means we’re switching back and forth between tasks at ludicrous speed. Even ludicrous speed comes with a lag in between those switches, though, and those lags can be costing you up to 40% of the efficiency you think you’re gaining. When we’re task-switching, we feel like we’re getting more done, but we’re really slowing ourselves down because every time we switch tasks, our brains have to reset and focus on the new task. While this happens in microseconds we don’t consciously realize, those microseconds add up and waste hours of each day.

We’re Losing Quality

When we’re task-switching, that means we’re also mildly distracted while we’re working on both (or more) tasks. If one of those tasks is fairly rote, then maybe we don’t notice a slide in the quality of the work. If both tasks are fairly complex, though, the problem becomes more obvious. We’re more prone to making mistakes when we don’t focus our full attention on the task at hand. Of course, the upshot of mistakes is that they need repair, which also takes time.

We’re Losing Memory and Creativity

Because of the energy our brains require to switch rapidly between tasks, almost every area of our brains’ functions suffer. Over the long term, we do get better at task-switching the more we do it, but that improvement still happens at a cost. Essentially, to get better at task-switching, our brains operate more like a computer, which means memory recall and creative thinking, other essential parts of our work, fall by the wayside.

We’re Losing Sleep

If you’ve ever come home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and stressed but unable to identify a cause, look to your task-switching habits. The extra mental energy we expend to switch between tasks doesn’t just take its toll on our cognitive functions. It’s stressful. While we’re task-switching, our brains are also producing more cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones that create the feeling of stress in our bodies.

Each of these factors set up cycles that play off each other in ways that further inhibit productivity. If we’re tackling two tasks and we make a mistake, we feel stressed, which further impairs thinking, all of which contribute to that 40% lost time and efficiency. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. We can abandon multitasking/task-switching for more efficient workload structures. Next week’s post will look at some multitasking alternatives in detail, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, remember The Records Company is always here to help you reduce your multitasking by taking on one of those tasks for you: records retrieval. We find records from all over the United States (and beyond) and deliver them to you seamlessly through our secure online portal. Contact us today to learn more about how we can lighten your load.

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