The Perils of Multitasking
As I am days away from starting a new project (as well as, not instead of Society of Lovely, stand down on the panic!), my mind turns to how to make a busy life, about to get even busier, work. Extra childcare, military evening organisation, a return to pre-dawn workouts are all on the cards, but the one thing I will be making an effort to avoid, is multi-tasking, mostly because it is a big, fat, myth.
Sometimes, multitasking is achievable. Walking while talking to a friend? Probably ok. Watching TV and skimming Social Media? So- so. There’s only so many times you can ask your partner “what just happened?” before you are going to earn a (rightfully) murderous look. Emailing a client while you’re in an important meeting? Potential disaster. But this happens all the time. The reality is, once the tasks start to get more complicated, research tells us you will start to slow down on one if not both tasks, and start making mistakes.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, excessive multitasking has severe consequences on our mental and physical well being, including:
· Impacts to your short-term memory (it negatively impacts on your ability to manage and focus on key information)
· Leads to increased anxiety (literally drains our minds energy reserves)
· Inhibits creative thinking (creativity needs mind space to digest and incubate new ideas)
· Stops you from getting into a state of “flow” (where productivity skyrockets)
· Causes more mistakes (multitasking can drop your IQ by 10 points – who needs that?!)
Emails and messages ARE THE WORST! Knowledge workers spend 40.1% of their days multitasking tasks and emails. Most people can’t go more than 6 minutes without checking their emails and IM, and 35.5% of workers check every 3 minutes or less!
If that wasn’t bad enough…. public opinion persists that women have a biological edge as super-efficient multitaskers. Women, particularly those with children, will routinely be juggling a job, running a household – in itself a frantic mix of kids lunchboxes, housework, judo practice, doctors’ appointments and social arrangements – on average four extra hours a week than men (Science Alert 2019). But a 2019 study shows women are actually no better at multitasking than men, they just do more work. (Public Library of Science 2019).
No wonder we’re exhausted. (Pause while I unconsciously check my phone. Sigh….)
The two things that have really made a difference for me is the Pomodoro technique and batching emails. Pomodoro technique is focused work for a set period of time, followed by a break for a set period of time. It works best for me when I have dedicated tasks and when I literally set a timer, which seems OTT, but when you’re in “the zone” and the timer goes off it can feel like about three minutes rather than 45! When I’m working from home, my break is usually hanging out the washing, or putting away kids shoes. So many shoes.
Batching emails can be quite scary at first. Even when it’s not explicitly stated, we feel the pressure to respond to emails and messages straight away. When I’m disciplined, I spend a set amount of time dealing with emails at the start, middle and end of the day. To really make this work, you need to switch off notifications, or close down email entirely in between. Eeeek! If something urgent comes up, you will get a phone call or god forbid someone will actually come to your desk. Crazy.
So that’s the theory, but of course, some days/weeks are better than others. New projects can be massively disruptive curve balls, so wish me luck!