Multitasking seems necessary in our hectic lives. A typical workday is filled with calls, emails, meetings and reports. At the end of the day, we rush to get the shopping done, assist children with homework and squeeze in an exercise session.
It seems necessary that we multitask to fulfil our obligations
It’s 10 am on a Friday. You are seated at your desk having a mid-morning snack as you respond to an email. Your desk extension starts ringing. While on the phone a colleague appears at your desk reminding you of the company event later that evening. A few minutes later an Instagram notification sounds on your mobile phone.
Try this experiment with me:
Very quickly recite the alphabet from letter A to letter Z. Now count from number 1 to 26.
Next switch letters and numbers: A1, B2, C3, D4
How far did you get?
How fast were you able to count?
Did you feel frustrated and irritated?
Our brains process information one bit at a time not in parallel. Whenever you multitask you are attention switching. As you move from task to task you experience an attention gap where you lose information. If you were working on a complex task it takes you 64 seconds to get back to where you were. Considering that we check our phones or emails every 5 minutes in a 40-hour workweek this 64-second gap adds up to eight and a half hours. The equivalent of a whole workday.
Multitasking increases stress and the likelihood of making mistakes. During the experiment on the alphabet did you sense irritation and frustration? Each time we multitask our frustration and anxiety increases. However; we fail to notice it as we are in a hurry.
Checking your phone and email every ten minutes has health risks. When you respond to a notification you experience a dopamine hit- the same chemical produced after the consumption of illicit drugs. The body experiences the same cravings and withdrawals as those felt by an addict. This constant high and low makes us less happy.
A more productive alternative would be to uni task. This is the process of deliberately switching your attention from one task to the other. In the above example when the phone rang; the appropriate response would be to complete the phone call, talk to your colleague then respond to the email. Unitasking includes scheduling time for tasks like answering emails, checking your social media and eating.
Running multiple tabs on your screen is distracting. Each time you receive a social media or email notification you get an urge to check it. Like an itch, your attention will linger on the notification until you open the email. To prevent this it is advisable to use a site-blocking app on social media and news sites on your work computer. At the end of the day, you can turn off the blocker and access the content as you wish.
A downside of multitasking is that you can rush from task to task mechanically. The quality of your work might be compromised in the rush to beat your deadline. To stem this create a habit of taking notes at the end of each task. In your work diary record details of the task including the start and completion time and challenges experienced during the task and any parts of the task, you are still thinking about. This process is referred to as interstitial journaling. It helps you move to the next task with greater focus further improving your efficiency.
Productivity and relaxation are not exclusive. While setting and meeting deadlines are important continuous levels of pressure lowers our efficiency. Constant pressure puts our bodies in a fight or flight mode- a survival mechanism adapted by our ancestors to avoid danger. In this heightened state, our judgement gets clouded. We are likely to react rather than respond to situations. Constant pressure lowers our immunity making us susceptible to colds, high blood pressure, heart attacks and depression.
If you have consistently struggled with inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity you might be suffering from ADHD. An adult with ADHD may have trouble holding down a job, managing time, being organized, setting goals and maintaining friendships.
A child with ADHD has trouble seating still, is fidgety and may struggle to maintain friendships.
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. It is a common behavioural disorder that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. It often requires a medical diagnosis.