Why Multitasking Is the Most Unproductive Thing Ever
When we have a lot to do, it seems attractive to do multiple things at one time – multitasking. While it seems to make sense that we’re faster when we do multiple things at once, in reality we don’t.
As it turns out, multitasking makes everything even worse… When we multitask, we get less done as well as worse results. Learn why…
The first problem is: to get a thing done fast and with excellence, we need to focus on it.
It does not make sense to do a thing half-heartedly. Since the goal is to get things done fast and good, we should concentrate on it, so we get good results fast.
Most people know this, but they may think: “I can still do my work whole-heartedly while I eat half-heartedly” for example. Seems to make sense at first sight…
The problem is: focus is not duplicable.
You only have your 100% focus and every activity takes a certain amount of that focus.
Now if you eat and work for example, some focus goes to your work and some to your food. You just don’t have those 100% anymore for your work.
As an effect, you can’t just get the same results in your work as you would have without eating.
And it’s not about the time you work, it’s about the results you get. You can work a hundred hours and still get nothing done properly.
And since you won’t get good results (if at all) by dividing the focus you lay on your tasks, it makes more sense to do them one at a time with good and fast results.
When you multitask things, you don’t have all your focus on them: So, both of them get done poorly, slowly and inefficiently.
In the end, it often takes even more time to get both done well than it would have by doing them one after another.
Plus, if your stuff gets done poorly, you maybe have to rework it later to optimize it. This takes extra time you could have used for more meaningful things - so focus on doing things right.
But the focus problem is not the only problem while multitasking. The distraction problem is another big time robber here…
When we focus on a task, after some time we enter a flow-like state. Flow is the state of mind where we perform the highest.
It usually appears when we’re in an activity where our abilities match the challenge of the task that we do. A flow state has the following benefits:
- Intense focus on the moment
- Action and awareness merge
- “Loss of reflective self-consciousness”1
- A sense of control over the activity
- Experience of time alters
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding
Thus, when we’re in a state of flow, our use of time and our excellence in getting the task done is at its peak state. But multitasking makes it impossible to experience flow.
A state of flow can only be reached and maintained when we’re undistracted.
Multitasking is a constant distraction. Let’s go back to the example of eating while working: every time we interrupt our work - with for example taking the next bite - is a distraction.
Those constant distractions finally prevent us from achieving a state of flow.
Thus, we never reach that highest level of effectiveness and excellence in the activity we aimed to finish. As an effect, we again finish the task slower and it takes a lot more time to get the great results we wanted or would have achieved in flow.
Studies tell us that it takes an average of around 25 minutes to re-focus after a distraction.
So, every time we get distracted, the next 25 minutes of our work (on average) are ineffective.
This makes any distraction a huge time robber. Plus, our mental energy declines because it is way easier to maintain a state of flow/focus than to enter it.
So, when a distraction occurs all the time – like it happens with multitasking – we never become effective in getting stuff done.
Every time we take the next bite while working, we have to re-focus afterwards. I hope you see the point…
Finally, when we compare, in most cases it does not make sense to multitask.
Combining both activities first seems to save you time from doing them after another. But again - as it turns out, with multitasking we get things done more slowly and less efficient.
We even waste mental energy for having to re-focus again and again, which decreases our effectiveness on the long term and on later tasks.
This means that in the end, we spend more time on getting our tasks done. Plus, we even may get worse results because of a lack of focus and flow. Now it doesn’t make logical sense anymore to multitask I hope.
The better idea is: do your things one after another and avoid any kind of distraction.
This will make it more likely for you to enter a state of flow, where everything goes more easily and with a minimum of mental energy invested.
Prioritize right, take massive action to get the current task done and then move on to the next. You will be more effective than with multitasking.
About the Author
Maurice Leibinn is the creator of Productive Energy Management – a method that helps people get a maximum amount of results in a minimum of time while sustaining their energy and avoiding any kind of overwhelm.
He is a productivity Coach serving serving overworked entrepreneurs and professionals. Read more...