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4 Ways That Multitasking Spoils Your Efforts

Does multitasking reap the benefits we believe it does?


Do you have a lot on your plate to get done for the day? It might seem easier to get it all done if you multitask. But the truth is, multitasking hurts your concentration big time. Read on to find out just how bad it is to multitask when trying to concentrate on getting things done.


I have a background in business consulting. Tax consulting, to be specific, in a big four audit environment where you’re sometimes reduced to feel like you’re nothing but a small cog in a super big and well-oiled machine. I know what it’s like to have several large projects running at the same time, in a high pressure high performance team. Because of the nature of the work, deadlines were hard set and more often than not, totally out of my control.

This is a universal problem that plays out slightly different - but similarly enough - across most industries.

When the going gets tough, the tough needs to get going. Burning the midnight oil sometimes leads to burning bridges though.

We are human and we get tired. When we get tired we lose concentration. And when we lose concentration, we make mistakes that can be costly. Sometimes the smallest human error can make the biggest dent in our client relationships. Which hurts the trust that we took forever to build. And ultimately, we damage our brand, both within and outside the organization. Our clients and our bosses look at us sideways. We end up hating ourselves, convinced that we proved to be a failure.

So human error comes at a very high personal cost. Not to mention the financial perils all around.

We get tempted to multitask. In fact, it feels like it becomes expected of us. Part of the unwritten rules in the team. To slog through everything at the same time as fast and as efficiently as possible. We get rewarded and praised when we reach our targets, meet our deadlines, and sacrifice our personal lives in the service of projects, people or pressures.

But it begs the question:

Does multitasking reap the benefits we believe it does?

Here are four reasons why multitasking fails us at work:


Our Brain Can’t Multitask

According to the American Psychological Association, there is no such thing as multitasking when it comes to our brain. Although we may think we are doing multiple things simultaneously, our brain is constantly switching back and forth between tasks. The reality is that we tire faster when we “multitask” than when we focus on one task at a time, properly. If you think about it, we end up wasting energy unnecessarily.

So stop multi-tasking. It doesn’t exist and it wastes energy.

Task-Switching Takes Time

Besides the wasted energy, task-switching takes us time to reorient ourselves to the new task. It can take up to three minutes for our brain to fully switch over to a new task. We “multitask” because we need to save time, but the reality is we waste time when we frequently and unnecessarily switch from one task to the next. So it is only logical that you can get more done if you could limit the number of times you waste energy and time to switch between tasks, which is invaluable if we’re serious about deadlines.

So stop multi-tasking. It doesn’t exist. It wastes time and energy.

Thoughts Don’t Flow

It isn't just the time and energy wasted. When we are constantly demanding that our brain switch subjects, this doesn't allow our brain to think very deeply.

We're much more likely to accomplish two complex tasks of higher quality when we focus on each task individually. That way our brain has the time to think through each task completely.

So stop multitasking. It doesn’t exist. It wastes time and energy, and it prevents focus and concentration.

Creativity is Stifled

A further consequence of our thoughts that cannot flow, is that we stifle our creativity. Depending on our line of work, creativity and the associated ability to think outside the box and come up with solutions to problems could be essential. Task-switching prevents us from having what we need for the mindset that we require to be creating and innovating in our work. Our inability to be creative in this way makes it more difficult to overcome roadblocks that might come up as we work. And if we can't solve challenges while we work, we may find ourselves stuck and wasting more time than we would if only we hadn't tried to multitask in the first place.

So stop multitasking. It doesn’t exist. It wastes time and energy, it prevents focus and concentration and hampers our ability to think creatively in times we need it most.


In summary: Does multitasking reap the benefits we believe it does?

Not even close.

Overall, although there are many reasons to switch tasks, our brain actually can't focus on two things at once, no matter how hard we try. It’s a biological limitation that we must embrace because only then can we maximize our real potential. No amount of wishful thinking would make a difference. This process of switching back and forth between tasks is both a time and energy waster. Plus, it doesn't allow thoughts to flow, thus stifling our creativity and increasing the chances we'll be stumped by a problem that we otherwise would be more likely to solve. This is why we should absolutely stop multitasking during the times when we need pure focus and concentration on complex tasks.

The reality though, is that our inability to multitask is not only a problem in the workplace. Multitasking is also a common theme in our very busy personal lives. Our lists of responsibilities and to-do lists get longer and longer. We learn quickly that we have to cope no matter what and that the risk of failure and disappointing others must be avoided at all costs. And so we multitask and hope for the best. But for the same reasons as explained, multitasking doesn’t reap us any benefits in our personal lives either. We end up being absent minded rather than fully present in the moment. Our family and friends suffer the consequence. But not as much as the lost time we cannot win back, ever.

Multitasking is in the end a concept that is actually counterproductive in the extreme. It’s based on falsehoods, bordering on self-sabotage.

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