The Case Against Multitasking

Think multitasking makes you a hero that can do it all? Society wants us to! But I’m here to say: this year more than ever, we need to stop multitasking! Curious why? Let’s dive into it.

Why You Need to Stop Multi-Tasking

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like the to-do lists never end. Between work, life and new mama-hood and attempting to sneak in moments for self-care whenever I can get them, it’s a lot. I’m not going to lie to you, I feel constantly overwhelmed and sometimes, it seems like multitasking is the only way to get it all done.

But for me, it’s not working. It’s not working to be half there in everything. It’s not working for me to hang with my family while texting, responding to an email, writing a post, cleaning the house, and cooking all at once. Can you relate?

(Yeah. I figured you might be able to.)

But here’s the other thing about multitasking: we glorify it. 

I don’t know where all of this started, but it seems to me that pop culture and social media have been sending us messages about how proud we should be of ourselves when we’re able to juggle a million and one things… and all at the same time. We hear phrases like “having it all” and “doing all the things” and “I don’t know how she does it!” and it all tells us one thing — we should rack up lots of tasks, then do them all gracefully without letting anyone see us sweat. In doing so, we become more “impressive”.

We glorify busy, we glorify multitasking, and guess what happens? We burn out.

And no one wants to burn out. 

I want to work harder where it matters most rather than juggling twelve things at the same time. I want to keep my “list” shorter so my efforts can produce results I’m proud of. I want the ability to be present in just one thing, and honestly, that has moved away from me in a precious time where I want that the most.

I want to stop over-planning and over-stressing, for a million reasons, but a new one being because I know my daily mood makes the weather. Get what I’m saying?

“It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.” – Haim Ginott

A quote about not multitasking.

With a new year just around the corner, I want to empower you to — wait for it — do less, or at least to do fewer things at the same time. That’s right. I’m about to give you (and I) permission to stop multitasking, even if it means that you can’t get it all done as quickly as you’re used to.

In fact, I’m about to make the case against multitasking and tell you everything you need to know about why it’s actually not the most effective way to tackle your to-do list. I’ll even make the argument that I can be a better wife, mom, friend, sister, daughter, boss, and co-worker, if I stop multitasking.

Yup. Forget everything you’ve ever heard or read about multitasking and how it can make your life better and more productive. Let’s talk about the downfalls of multitasking. Before we start breaking down multitasking’s many disadvantages, let’s take it way back to basics.

According to Merriam-Webster, multitasking is the performance of multiple tasks at one time. Seems pretty obvious, right? 

Great. Moving on. 

Here are some of the dark sides of multitasking…

Psychology Today, Ellevate, and Career Advancement note several disadvantages. 

It can actually be bad for your brain. 

You read that right! While multitasking may save you some time, it can damage your brain in the long run. Participants in a 2014 study who were identified as frequent multitaskers showed reductions in the grey matter in their brains. More specifically, damage took place in the areas of the brain related to cognitive control and the regulation of motivation and emotion. 

This is largely due to the fact that much of the multitasking we do these days revolves around media and technology! Many of the disadvantages and dangers associated with multitasking are also tied to the disadvantages and dangers of regular screen use. 

Multi-tasking makes you less efficient.

Working on multiple tasks at the same time might make you feel like you’re doing more things, more quickly, but if your attention is divided, your efficiency may be compromised. When you give something your undivided attention you allow yourself to focus on the details of that task and avoid making mistakes. 

And since making mistakes will only cost you more time later on, your precious time is probably better spent getting something done in a focused way the first time around! Just take your to-do list one item at a time! In the long run, this strategy will make you more efficient. 

It’s associated with memory loss.

Various studies have proven that regular multitasking can cause memory and/or attention loss long-term. People who do a lot of multitasking generally have a more difficult time switching between tasks and do not perform as well on memory tests. 

It can make you more stressed.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. Picture this: you wake up to one of those long to-do lists I mentioned earlier. As always, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, so you immediately switch into multitasking mode. You’re taking care of kids and checking on parents and cleaning the house and tending to your work and making dinner… all at once. And while this might make you feel like Wonderwoman, it also leaves you feeling stressed and exhausted. 

Are you stressed just thinking about it? Same. 

If you do this constantly, that stress is going to build up, and it’s not going to be pretty. Stress feels crummy, but it also causes headaches, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure, stomachaches, muscle tension, rapid breathing, and a weakened immune system, among other things. It puts you at risk for a slew of more serious health issues, as well. 

All because you’ve been multitasking! 

Obviously, multitasking is suddenly sounding a lot less appealing.

And it’s important to note that it’s never been easier to multitask. I mentioned screens and technology before in relation to sleep, but it’s worth repeating. With the power to accomplish pretty much anything from the palm of our hands comes the pressure to, well, accomplish pretty much anything from the palm of our hands… while we’re doing other things. 

One way to cut back on the amount of multitasking happening in your life is to pay close attention to what you’re doing on your phone or tablet. Next time you find yourself scrolling through a screen while you’re doing other things, pause! Take a step back and think about what level of multitasking is going on in that moment.

Thanks to technology, we are so used to multitasking these days that we often don’t even realize we’re doing it. Paying closer attention to this particular kind of multitasking is a great way to start cutting back on your overall multitasking. 

Podcasts to listen to this fall

Alternatives to Multitasking

Here are a few other alternatives to multitasking and easy productivity tips that can save you from those negative side effects…

  • Prioritize your day. Instead of feeling immediately overwhelmed by your long to-do list at the start of a day — which will likely tempt you to start multitasking — figure out what actually has to get done and prioritize accordingly. It may take a few minutes to get those priorities in order, but from there, you can focus on one task at a time and save yourself the trouble of juggling all of the things at once.
  • Figure out your most productive time of day. Some of us are morning people. Others of us can get a lot accomplished at night. Sometimes, our most productive times of day are dictated by kids and other commitments. Figure out when you are most productive and plan your tasks based on that. Time block: block periods of time for specific tasks, and don’t open your email (for example) during those times. Plan to accomplish the most important and/or challenging items during those challenging periods and give yourself permission to do more mindless tasks at other times. 
  • Minimize distractions! I get that you can’t get rid of every distraction, but if you know you have something especially important on your itinerary for a given day, see if you can get ahead of those distractions so that you can focus and eliminate the need for multitasking in the first place. 
  • Assign different kinds of tasks for different days. You might find it easier to stay on track with one task at a time if you can group your to-do list into categories and focus on a different category every day of the week. This will be easier on your brain, since you won’t have to switch between such drastically different activities. 
  • Find an accountability buddy. If you find yourself multitasking a lot — and you’re now wondering if it’s such a good idea — chances are that there are other people in your life who are in the same boat. Anyone who is in the same stage of life that you’re in can probably relate to the way you multitask! Everything’s better with an accountability partner, so why not go ahead and send this post to a friend or family member and see if they’re up for a little anti-multitasking challenge this month? Commit to reporting in to each other any time you wander into multitasking territory — and to checking in now and then to see how you’re feeling about your new, multitasking-free routine! 

The more you can shift from multitasking to “monotasking” (AKA doing just one task at a time), the better off you’ll be. This shift might look different for everyone, but it can benefit all of us. I think psychologist Dr. Debi Silber said it best on Ellevate

“Monotasking doesn’t mean that your other projects won’t get accomplished, it just means that you’ll get them done, one at a time, without the feeling of being fragmented and harried, while being more productive, present and engaged in the space you’re currently in and with the task you’re currently working on. The thought of being completely submerged in a single task brings a sense of relief to my mind, a relaxation to my body, and a satisfying smile to my face.”

Clearly, it’s time we stop glamorizing multitasking and doing it all, all at once. Let’s declare multitasking uncool and start focusing on one thing at a time! 

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December 18, 2020

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