Multitasking: Why It’s Bad & Why This Madness Has to Stop

Multitasking has been getting a bad rap and if you do multitask and seem to forget things a lot, then that means that multitasking is starting to take its toll on you. I have been joking around saying that my short-term memory loss is due to having kids but after a while people start mentioning conversations that I do not have any memory of, and overdue tasks that I still keep forgetting to do or update.

After a short, well-deserved break recently, I got back to work with a new appreciation for slowing down (don’t we all?) and discovered that the pre-break me has been losing her grip on the state of things for quite some time. So this is my warning to you, that multitasking is really doing a number on your brain, in more ways than you know.

It’s not good for you

If you are a multitasker, due to the nature of your job or what people say about your generation, good for you. But I mentioned that multitasking is causing you to forget things, and it’s not just me saying this. Science is.

Now I have a beef with Science, who seems to keep telling me how I am living my life wrong e.g. cook spaghetti this way, pack your suitcase that way, don’t poop this way, drink coffee that way… but this time around, I concede.

Scientific studies have shown that multitasking is bad for your brain and a failing memory is part of the symptoms of the damage caused. I didn’t have to read the journal to know this. I’m a walking example.

To stop multitasking would mean I have to slow down at my job, which may seem like I will lose out in the productivity race, but in fact it is supposed to be better for my health. And like you right about now, I had problems accepting that I needed to slow down.

Take a break

It wasn’t until I took a 5-day break from work to basically "reboot" before I notice a change in how clear things became to me. It was like a fog had lifted and I can see everything and every mistake I’ve made, clearly. Being cut off from emails, messaging apps, and my regular duties allowed me to take a step back and put things into perspective.

The importance of taking vacations is not something new (check out this post where we compared the leave policies of 30 countries). School teachers in Germany were tracked by researchers, who found out that teachers who went on vacation are more engaged at work and will burn out slower. It is also reported that you are at a 30% higher risk of suffering a heart-related problem if you put off vacations a few years in a row.

And of course, there is the sudden spike in creativity you will enjoy once you return from a break.

Even if you cannot go far, killing off notifications during the weekend or when you are out of the office can provide that change in pace that can be very good for rebooting your work productivity.

Cut down on the tabs

So back to work and with a renewed vow to finally stop multitasking, the first order of the day was to get rid of my tabbing disorder. This happens with people who are on the Internet a lot, either because of work or because they have no willpower.

The tabs I open are in the category of "way too many" and my reluctance to close these tabs are because of that tiny voice inside my head that said something or someone in one of these tabs still need my attention.

Facebook, Gmail, some social media site, plenty of articles you should have watched later, videos you cannot stop watching – things like that.

These can take out a lot of your work time, not to mention dissipating your focus. If you are like me, maybe you should try this: cut down your opened tabs to just 5 (later on to just 3) in one go.

Once you have the maximum number of tabs opened (that’s 5), you cannot open a new tab until you have closed down any one of the 5 tabs left opened.

At any moment you are online, you have only these 5 tabs to play around with. Basically, once you have run your checks through your emails or social media, it’s time to shut that baby down and move on to something else.

Paper and pen for short term goals

One of the most important things I had learned about planning is not to do too much of it. Oh, you still have to plan, but the important thing to remember is not to spend the bulk of the time in the planning stage.

paper and pen

Same goes to paper. If you have to fill in too many forms to move on to the next stage in the work process, then something is wrong. When something that is supposed to be a productivity catalyst starts eating into your productive time, then it should be eliminated.

But in this case, instead of forms, we are going to use paper, the kind that has one side used up (we will be chucking them into the trashcan anyways), plus a pen or pencil. That’s it.

Once you need to do something, write it down: who to call or email about what information when. Once it is done, cross it out like it is a victory, because it is. Once a large portion of the paper has been filled up and crossed out, tear out that section and chuck it out. Or bury it. Or burn it. Whichever floats your CSS.

Of meat and poison

From here on, you’re on your own. That’s cause this is the part where things get very different from one individual to the next: one man’s meat, the other’s poison.

You will need to identify the things that leave you tired at the end of a day’s work – work automatically gets disqualified because you have to do it – and decide whether or not your work productivity is better without it.

music while working

Like, for instance, listening to music. I tried listening to music while I work, specifically choosing a "Focus/Concentration" genre of music to work to. For some reason, it left me more tired than if I was not listening to music while I work (sorry Snow White, whistling while you work may not be such a good idea).

You will need to identify your own kryptonite and figure out what to do about it.

You might be special

I think that it’s also important to note that it is possible you could be a super multi-tasker, kind of like a hero who has multitasking abilities as a superpower. But know that this is a very rare group of people – this study found only 19 such people in a sample of 700. These super multi-taskers work well while multitasking, committing little to no mistakes.

Apart from this, there may also be instances when you can find yourself multitasking better than how you normally do. For instance in highly pressurised situations like when you are in the midst of your finals, have to take care of 50% of the family who is sick, and planning for your little girl’s first birthday party.

Some people function better under pressure and excel in multitasking. Having to juggle so many things, all of equal importance will however take the life out of you, but because they are important to you, and you cannot fail those who depend on you, your body find ways to make it work – or die trying.

Would you die trying to protect your productivity levels? If you said yes, please tell us why and what your secret is.