Rapid expansion of technology has given us various media with good intentions to make our lives easier, more efficient and productive. And somehow we have used it to turn our workday into a bombardment of emails, reports, phone calls, messages and a lot of deadlines to meet. Multitasking, although it seems like the only way to survive, makes life much harder and decreases the quality of our activities.
When Do We Multitask?
We all multitask many times everyday. It may be listening to latest news on Bloomberg while working on your stock portfolio, or searching the web while you are making a phone call, watching TV and zapping while doing your homework. Mainly, we do it for below reasons;
--Time Constraints: If we do not have time to do them work separately on each task, we try to do them all
--Distraction: If we cannot focus on our task/activity or get distracted by something else, we tend to multitask. (This generally happens when our current activity is boring. And we always have boring but urgent stuff to do)
--Interrelated tasks: If two tasks are related, we believe that doing them simultaneously will be more effective
--The feeling of being productive: Sometimes we do not have time constraints or a lot of things to do, but we multitask just because we can. It gives a feeling that we have mastered the activities we do and we are utilizing our full capacity.
--Avoiding the inevitable: Sometimes when a task is difficult or we need to make a challenging decision, we switch to other tasks in order to delay it a little more.
Efficient ? Effective ?
Although it seems time saving and feels more productive, what we call multitasking is just our brain alternating between tasks, and not allowing ourselves to concentrate on one of them.
Studies show that students are %40 slower in solving math problems, if they switch to other tasks temporarily. Being slower and distracted leads to more errors in what we do. We also feel pressured since we have faced all the pending tasks together
As a result, multitasking will;
*take more time than doing things one by one
*decrease the quality of your activities, and the results you get from them
*make you feel pressured, fighting with everything all together
The Type of Multitasking That Works
There is a type of multitasking that is effective though. If one of the activities is well-memorized and repetitive, multitasking happens subconsciously. An example is singing while playing guitar, which is really difficult when you are a beginner. But after some practice, it becomes second nature, and the brain becomes able to perform it without and conscious effort. Now as our brain does not have to work on "playing", it is time to start singing along. Even after singing&playing the same song for a while, you can start dancing too :)
Effective learning with practice has many other examples like riding bicycle or driving a car, which allow multitasking efficiently.
In the example of driving, if there is an emergency, we will not be able react on time because our brain will be concentrated on another activity. It just takes a few seconds for the brain to stop multitasking and focus on the emergency, but those can be the most important seconds of our lives. 18% of injury crashes in 2010 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
How To Avoid Unnecessary Multitasking
Though it seems impossible to eliminate multitasking completely, below tips worked for me in many cases to simplify & organize my workday, and build a less stressful working environment.
-One task at a time. Do not start working on too many tasks together.Carry out your tasks one by one, and try to stick to it. Focusing on one task may be hard at first, but you will get used to it.
-Plan your workday, (or the whole day) and take the important and urgent tasks first, because they will be stuck in your mind unless solved and will not let you focus on other activities. Once they are completed, you will see a great improvement in your efficiency and production.
-Prevent distractions: If something gets your attention while you are working on an important task, you start to multitask. It may be one of the clients calling, an message notification popping-up, or some colleague who comes for a chat; you begin multitasking before you even know it. So if possible, try to avoid possible distractions before they come out.
-Keep notes of new tasks. If some new task or idea comes along while you are working on something else, take a note of it and return to your original task. You can use your calendar to set a clear date of when you will work on it, and get it out of your mind, temporarily.
-Keep your desktop clean. That is valid both for your computer and office desktop. A desktop full of different files and notes always reminds you of a lot of tasks to do. And when you have a lot to do, guess what, you try to finish 'em all at once.
-Stop checking your email inbox every 5 minutes. Unless you are waiting for an important message, it is best to check the inbox once in 2 hours, to classify and organize the new emails.
-When the system is slow, just wait. Waiting for the computer to process your order is a loss of time, I agree. But it is generally too short to complete another task in between. And if you switch to another task you generally leave it unfinished. Besides, when you come back to your initial screen, you lose an extra time to remember what you were doing.