Multitasking is one of those overused words you hear when talking about employee traits. It usually carries a positive connotation and is framed as a compliment. However, over the last decade, the art of multitasking has been debated because research suggests it can be harmful to our brains and productivity.
When You Shouldn’t Multitask
Studies over the past decade have shown multitasking is detrimental to our productivity and well-being because it drains cognitive resources. Many experts suggest multitasking reduces productivity by 40 percent so there are activities we shouldn’t multitask.
- Tasks that can’t afford mistakes. Quality can suffer if you’re not giving your full attention because it leads to errors.
- Tasks with tight deadlines. Jumping back and forth between tasks can lower your ability to be punctual. Instead, focus on the pressing task at hand and see better results.
- Tasks needing a solid focus. The last thing you want to do is be inattentive and miss an important detail when talking to your boss or customer.
Multitasking does have its place, provided you don’t adopt it as your norm. Shifting between tasks is more likely to lead to negative results. Only two percent of our population can truly do it.
When Multitasking Is Beneficial
True multitasking means doing two things simultaneously. Many researchers say how people multitask really is only “task switching,” which doesn’t give tasks the attention they probably need. But multitasking can be beneficial when done purposefully.
- Tap into different cognitive resources. Multitask things that don’t require the same type of concentration. For instance, brainstorm ideas while shredding documents or practice for a presentation while exercising.
- Perform low-level tasks. Make those phone calls you’ve been putting off while doing simple filing or while waiting for files to back up on your flash drive.
- Change of pace. A project got your burned out? Switch to something else to recharge your brain. It might spark your creativity and motivation.
Chances are during your career you probably have placed several irons in the fire at once. This in itself isn’t bad, but you should be selective of how many irons you pick up at once. Look to use multitasking strategically to maximize your time and increase output.
The bottom line: Find tasks that are not in conflict with each other and multitask them to achieve a higher level of productivity.