Why You Shouldn’t Be Multitasking in the Workplace [And What To Do Instead]
As a freelancer or business owner, you’ve always got more on your plate than you can handle. Acquiring customers, fulfilling orders, following up with queries, billing, paying invoices, and more.
With a mountain of jobs to do every single day, you probably think that multitasking in the workplace is the only way you can possibly get everything checked off your list.
Well, think again.
We’re always on the lookout for ways to make our operations more efficient, so in this post we’ll show you why multitasking isn’t actually the solution you’re looking for. And why it could be doing more harm than good.
What Is Multitasking?
Although we all might have an inherent idea of what we mean by multitasking, it is worth having a common definition to go by so that you understand exactly what we’re cautioning against.
For the purposes of this post, consider multitasking to be any time you are attempting to get two or more tasks done that require active attention during the same chunk of time.
A classic example that plenty of people can probably relate to might look something like this:
- You sit down to write sales copy for a new service.
- As you’re writing, you stop to answer an email that just came from a client.
- Mid email, you get distracted by some stupid cat video that your aunt shared on Facebook.
- After scrolling through your news feed for a bit, you hop back on your original task.
- Suddenly, you realize that you never finished that email to your client.
Multitasking in the workplace like this is pretty common to some extent among most people. Freelancers, business owners, and nine-to-fivers can all relate.
Why Multitasking Isn’t Actually Possible
So now that we know what multitasking is, let’s talk about why you shouldn’t do it.
Or, more specifically, why it’s neurologically impossible.
You see, while it might feel like you are accomplishing a bunch of things at once, what you’re actually doing is rapidly switching between different tasks.
So, in a sense, multitasking is really just switch-tasking. And switch-tasking is really, really bad for productivity.
Why Multitasking Kills Productivity
According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, every time we toggle from one task to another, we expend valuable mental energy in order to shift our mindset from the different demands of each task.
Multitasking “ruins productivity, causes mistakes, and impedes creative thought”, says Miller.
Think of it this way. In our previous example, you had to put yourself in a salesy frame of mind in order to write that new service description. Before you finished the task, you moved over to your client’s email, which required a more problem-solving oriented mindset. Then, you blew all your productivity to shreds by shifting into a lazy relaxed mood that generally accompanies social media.
Each time you attempt to shift back to your work, you’ve got to reestablish the right mindset. You lose time, and you lose the deep levels of concentration that are typically required for creative thinking.
You’re also more likely to miss out on important details while multi-tasking. One study found that people walking while talking on the cell phone were less likely to spot a clown riding by them on a unicycle!
What is Multitasking in the Workplace Costing You?
Obviously, everyone is different. But it is important to point out that research estimates that only 2% of the population is actually capable of multitasking in the workplace without losing productivity.
So, if you find yourself saying “this doesn’t apply to me”, odds are that you might be fooling yourself. And if you think that you couldn’t possibly be lying to yourself, research has also found that the people who think they are the best at multitasking are actually the worst at it.
(Of course, you could always find out for yourself. A team of researchers actually invented a test to see if you are one of the 2% of supertaskers).
In the end, multi-tasking decreases productivity by 40% on average. When most people are distracted by a new task, they take about 23 minutes to switch back to their original work. The inefficiencies of multitasking are even estimated to cost the economy 450 billion dollars every year!
Instead of Multitasking, Do This…
Okay, if you’ve made it this far, hopefully you can agree that multitasking isn’t the best way to approach your to-do list. So what should you do instead?
Here are a few ways to tackle your daily duties without sacrificing your productivity.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Prioritizing is a pretty effective cure for multitasking. Often, we fall into multitasking as a panicked reaction to the feeling that a million things of equal importance are all demanding our attention.
Prioritizing cuts the panic off at the roots by showing us that some tasks are more immediate than others. It’s pretty simple, just do something like this:
- At the start of the day, write down all of your big to-dos.
- Number each task as a 1 (mission critical), 2 (important but not critical), or 3 (should be done, but could be put off).
- Throughout the day, as you work on tasks, focus on them one at a time, in order of importance.
Work in Chunks
While some people like to schedule their day out hour by hour, a lot of us just aren’t keen on that. Instead, you can plan to work in chunks of time, set on not switching tasks until the chunk is over.
You’ll have to find what works for you, but a chunk should probably not be any shorter than 20 minutes (since that’s about the time that it takes you to get back on task when distracted).
What works for a lot of people is to chunk about 40 minutes for a high priority task, and then spend 20 minutes on a less demanding work, like answering emails.
Turn Off Distractions
It’s way too easy to let dinging phones and pop-up notifications distract you from an important task. And the procrastinator in all of us loves a reason to be distracted.
Just like a key diet strategy is removing temptation by tossing out all the junk food, you can remove the temptation by disabling notifications on social media, email, and similar distractions.
Delegate the Minor Tasks
If there is a lot on your plate that could be handle by someone else, don’t be afraid to delegate those tasks away so that you don’t feel pulled in as many directions at once.
Depending on the jobs you need done, Legiit may be the perfect place to find the talent you need to make your work more efficient. Take a look and see how these talented freelancers could help you cure the multitasking blues.