Corina Manea

Why Multitasking is Bad for You

By: Corina Manea | September 7, 2017 | 
17

Why Multitasking is Bad for YouThis week we have talked about coping with work-related stress and how to recognize and avoid burnout.

Besides having too much work to do and never disconnecting from our jobs, another factor that leads to burnout is multitasking.

There are countless of studies on the effects of multitasking.

Did you know it takes your brain 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption?

How is that for efficiency?

Neuroscientists found multitasking drains the energy reserves of your brain.

For years, multitasking has been a badge of honor and “proof” of someone’s value as an employee.

The more you could do at the same time, the better you were seen and the more valuable you were to your company and clients.

We used to “fly” from one meeting to another, from a client call to the next one without stopping to take a break, or God forbid, have lunch.

It’s called “corporate America” (replace America with your own country).

The nine to five jobs were (and in some cases, still are) 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. or 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

You couldn’t leave early (aka at 5:00 p.m.) because you were seen as unprofessional.

The back and forth in the workday we’ve become accustomed to is not only exhausting, but also very unproductive.

You still had to fill in reports, write that article, contact a new client, sign that contract.

There were so many things to do, and you were only one.

And then the internet came and everything around us exploded: Too much to read, too much to do, less and less time.

Twenty four hours are no longer enough.

We started checking emails while having lunch with friends and family, tweeting while answering the phone, documenting every single moment in our days with Instagram Stories.

Because if you are not active on social media, you’re missing out, right?

Does this sound like you?

It sounded like me a while back.

The Shift

Until recently, that’s how my days were.

I was rushing from one thing to another. Eating lunch while checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Walking down the street looking at my phone rather than at the people around me.

I was living in a parallel universe, and FOMO was very real.

Until one day when I became unhappy and unsatisfied with my work and everything I did.

Nothing was enough anymore.

Every win was too small. Every finished project on time with success was “normal,” so there was nothing to celebrate or be proud of.

I started to lose my creativity and became more and more frustrated with myself.

Sounds familiar?

It’s so easy to fall into this trap of doing more, being more, and all at the same time.

We lose control of ourselves and our lives. We live for the next task on our to-do list.

At the end of each day, I felt like I was running a marathon for hours. I was exhausted, and the finish line was nowhere in sight.

So, I had to stop, take a step back and analyze what was happening.

The source of my unhappiness, as I discovered, was…me.

I kept myself busy shifting from one task to another, from one project to the next one.

James Clear said it well in one of his articles:

Doing more things does not drive faster or better results.

Doing better things drives better results.

Even more accurately, doing one thing as best you can, drives better results.

So, I decided to stop. I took a break from social media, I looked at my daily to-do list, and I assigned priorities to each of them.

The answer was very simple and right in front of me all along: Stop multitasking!

Many studies show we are not able to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

By trying to do two or more things at the same time, we waste precious time.

If you’re struggling with multitasking, feeling overwhelmed and with no way out, I have five steps to help you get back on track.

How I Stopped Multitasking

Or, how I learned to unmultitask.

Even though that word does not exist, but I want to emphasize how important it is to take things one at a time.

Prioritize

Before you start your day, or at the end of the day if that works better for you, take five minutes and ask yourself what’s the most important task you have to do the following day to move things forward.

Write it down!

Then choose two more tasks for the second and third place on your priority list.

Now you have the three most important things you need to accomplish the next day to move things forward in your work.

Start doing them. Whatever else comes your way goes into the waiting line.

Focus

Take the time to focus only on one of the tasks you declared as a priority.

No Facebook, Twitter, email checking, no answering your phone, no talking with your colleagues.

No cheating!

Focus, focus, focus.

Make Yourself Unavailable

Let your colleagues, boss, family (if you´re working from home) know you are unavailable for the next…fill in the blanks. And stick to your word.

It’s hard at first, but in time they will understand.

You need to protect your time in the office, but also outside of the office.

Take a Break

Taking a break from what you’re working on means spacing yourself from it, relaxing your mind and body.

It doesn’t mean you can check your social media channels or email.

Learn how to spend time with yourself. Say hi to a colleague, talk to your neighbor, or just walk down the street and talk to strangers.

When you take a break and change the scenery, your brain takes a break, too.

When you come back to the office, you will feel refreshed, much more creative, and ready to rule the world.

Finish

You defined your priorities for the day, you locked yourself into the office and worked on them, and you took a break to refresh your mind.

Now finish the job!

There is no greater satisfaction than finishing something you’ve worked so hard on.

It’s easy, it’s doable, and above all, it’s a must if you want to keep your sanity, be productive, and still love what you do.

I learned it the hard way, don’t do the same!

How do you unmultitask? What tips do you have?

A version of this article originally appeared on NutsPR.

About Corina Manea


Corina Manea is the chief community officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She works directly with Spin Sucks students and writes for the award-winning PR blog. She also is the founder of NutsPR. Join the Spin Sucks  community!

  • Carol Ludtke Prigan

    Thanks for this post, Corina! I’ve been using the same approach to stop multitasking and get things done. I find I can accomplish more in less time if I stick with the task or project rather than trying to do three things at once. It’s still a challenge (old habits die hard), but I make my list each day and work on crossing items off the list. Taking breaks definitely helps when I come back to the task. I can focus better and actually finish something before calling it a day.

    • Thank you, Carol!

      Speaking of habits, an awesome book I read this year that made a huge difference for me is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. After reading it, you’ll find it much more easier to “kill” old habits.

  • Bill Smith

    Amen Corina! I use pretty much the same approach. I wind up accomplishing more and keep my sanity at the same time.

    • Thank you, Bill. Happy to hear it works for you too.

  • I read in one article on multi-tasking, “if you think you are a good multi-tasker, then you are actually probably worse at it than most people.” Which is so true. Anyone out there thinking, “oh, well this doesn’t apply to me, I”m great at multi-tasking.” You’re wrong. Our human brains aren’t built to be able to multi-task, so unless you are an alien, then you’re wrong.

    Great points here Corina!

    • Thank you, Laura!

      This is so true, “if you think you are a good multi-tasker, then you are actually probably worse at it than most people.”

  • Michelle Hals

    Great post, Corina. I started writing down my to-do list the night before and found it helped me get going the next morning. No more time wasted wondering “what do I need to do today.” And I’m far more productive because I’m focusing on one thing at a time.

    One tool that I’ve found helpful in limiting distractions is Cold Turkey. It’s a program that allows you to select which websites you’d like to block and for how long.

    • Thank you, Michelle.

      I like doing my to-do list the night before as well. It gives me peace of mind and focus for the next day.

      I also found that in the morning the time flies, literally. So, I am very protective of those hours. Don’t want to spend them on “what should I do today” stuff.

      Hahaha. I like the name Cold Turkey. I’ll check it out. Thanks.

  • Dawn Buford

    I am a terrible multi-tasker, but I am really good at making a to-do list and love the satisfaction of crossing things off that list. I do still check my social media at lunchtime though (because I actually do take a lunch break!). : )

    • There is nothing more satisfying than crossing things off your to-do list and the feeling of accomplishment.

  • KensViews

    Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! It’s more than not multi-tasking or unmulti-tasking: UNITASK!

  • Debbie Johnson

    This is something I need to work on. Thanks to the great tips shared here, I have a place to start.

  • Liz Reusswig

    Spot on, @corinamanea:disqus! Multitasking is undoubtedly a major deterrent to productivity, and the rise of the internet and instant access to information has only made this worse. One common thread in all of these topics we’ve been talking about – multitasking, burnout, stress, etc. – is that WE HAVE THE CHOICE to succumb or not to. And that’s the good news. I admire the choices you’ve made that give you better balance/integration/enjoyment (or whatever you want to call it!).

    • Indeed, Liz. It is our choice. It’s just a matter of being aware of what choices we make each day and during the day.

  • Jill Chukerman

    This article definitely speaks to me! Working from home, I multitask throughout my day, and though I delude myself into thinking I’m good at it, I know mostly what’s happening is I’m being distracted. These are great tips, some of which I try to do already, but really focusing on one thing at a time is key, I think. I also love the satisfaction of crossing off things on my daily and weekly to-do lists! Thanks
    – Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

    • Thank you for reading, Jill! Let me know how it goes.

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