The Truth about Multitasking at the Workplace
Technologies have made us think that we can do multiple things all at once. We send emails while on the phone, watch TV while posting Facebook updates, and text while writing business letters. People tend to think that multitasking gets the job done faster. Does it?
An article published by Peter Bergman in Harvard Business Review reports that multitasking results to a 10% decrease in IQ. 10% may not seem much, but it’s actually equal to a night’s loss of sleep. Or even worse (or better, depending on who you ask), it’s twice the effect of smoking a joint.
The same study found that there was a noticeable 40% drop in work productivity in addition to an increase in stress levels. So if you think multitasking is efficient, think again.
Before multitasking in the workplace, think twice!
Multitasking downside #1: Decreased efficiency
The act of multitasking doesn’t mean equal processing of the tasks we need and want to do. When we do multiple things at the same time, the brain cannot keep up. No matter how good we think we are at it, it’s not the case. Instead of multitasking, we actually switch-task. The brain constantly interrupts itself when we switch from one task to another, resulting to decreased performance and efficiency.
Our brains are not like computers. We cannot allocate the same RAM, energy, and power source to each and every “program” (in this case, task) we are using. Even a regular computer crashes when you have several programs running.
Indeed, in a study conducted in the workplace, it was found that respondents who were involved in several tasks at once took about 1/3 longer to finish. Twice as many errors were also made as opposed to those who focused on one task at a time.
Multitasking downside #2: Diminished focus and learning
Focus can only be achieved if the brain is presented with one task at a time. Other than that, the normal reaction is to slow down. In a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, scientists have found that multitasking results to increased susceptibility to outside and irrelevant stimuli.
Everyday, we log on to Facebook and Instagram, read numerous articles, and are bombarded with emails, text messages, and calls. In the end, this only makes it harder to concentrate on one task, let alone multiple ones.
Psychologists from UCLA have also reported that multitasking affects the ability to learn. This can be harmful to a company whose workers need to be up to date with all the advancements in technology.
Multitasking downside #3: Impaired memory
Overload the brain with too much information and it can forget the finer details required to finish a task. Multitasking in the workplace can result to employees producing subpar outputs. Eventually, this can negatively affect the company as a whole.
Multitasking downside #4: Creativity repressed
You would think that constant stimulation and interaction with other people could lead to an increase in creativity. “Get the creative juices flowing”, as one might say.
The opposite actually happens when one multitasks. A study conducted by the Harvard Business School assessed the work performance of thousands of employees working on creative and innovative projects. They reported that employees who focused on one activity reached higher levels of creative thinking. On the other hand, those who experience constant interruptions showed the opposite.
Multitasking downside #5: Increased stress
Multitasking can be likened to a performance artist spinning plates on a long stick. You don’t actually see it but their muscles become taut and there’s an increase in adrenaline, among other things.
Across all surveys and studies done on multitasking, increased stress levels have been found. Aside from negative cognitive impact, multitasking can also lead to a negative impact on health. Stress hormones and adrenaline is released when one multitasks and this can wreak havoc in the physiological processes of the body. This can result to a vicious cycle of juggling multiple tasks: more tasks to finish, more stress, and multitasking even more to try and keep up.
Employees have also reported lower job satisfaction with personal relationships also being affected. This constant level of stress can result to sickness, and can lead to a decrease in work productivity.
So what should you do?
List down the things that need to be done in the order of importance. This gives you more time to finish more urgent tasks.
- Set a time limit for each task
When multiple tasks demand your attention, allot a certain amount of time to finish each one. Avoid distractions during this period. Focus on the task at hand and stick to it.
- Don’t procrastinate
Get things done as soon as you are able. Put off logging onto Facebook. There are more important things. Your status updates can wait.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Set yourself a realistic and doable amount of goals. If you think taking on more work will impress your boss, think again. If you’re not able to deliver, that can only spell disaster for you.
In the end, it’s better to focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking, though it may seem and sound impressive, can only be counter- productive.