How Multitasking Hurts You

5 Productivity Myths You Should Avoid

Susan Cain

“What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.”

Once thought to be a badge of honor, we now know multitasking poses threats to our productivity and focus. Plus, it’s bad for our brains.

But can it be avoided, especially now with our blurred and blended home and work life? No doubt, the work from home experience has fundamentally changed how and where we do our best work. So be warned, avoid multitasking because it hurts you more than it helps. Take a look at the most commonly held myths of multitasking.

Do you prescribe to any of these myths?

  1. Multitasking makes me more productive.
    No, it really doesn’t. Research indicates that multitasking lowers your IQ by 10 points, which is like missing a full night’s sleep. Multitasking actually distracts you from your ability to concentrate, plus it can diminish your memory.
  2. Multitasking allows me to cover more ground on all my tasks.
    Again, no. Doing several things at once produces more errors and is less effective than focusing on one task at a time.
  3. The more multitasking I do, the better I get.
    The more you multitask, the less focused you become, making you less productive and less effective. Researchers found the more people multitasked, the more easily they could become distracted.
  4. Multitasking gives me a sense of accomplishment.
    Maybe, but it is ruining your connections. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a conversation with someone who answers a phone call, scans social media, or is otherwise distracted? Multitasking can foster disconnection among your colleagues.
  5. I save energy by switching between tasks.
    Your brain says otherwise. It’s very tiring on your brain to constantly switch gears and doing so causes a reduction of grey matter, the areas related to cognitive control and the regulations of motivation and emotion.

Here’s what multitasking looks like:

  • Responding to emails while listening to a podcast.
  • Taking notes during a lecture.
  • Driving a vehicle while talking to someone on a cell phone.
  • Talking on the phone while scanning social media.
  • Sending emails during a meeting.
  • Taking calls and returning emails while working on a project.

What can you do?

Instead of multitasking, implement the practice of single-tasking into your personal and professional practices. Single-tasking conserves energy, improves productivity, increases commitment and promotes self-discipline. Setting and maintaining boundaries will help you gain the discipline necessary to focus. And if you’re working from home, there are additional temptations to multitask. Here are a few things you can do to stay focused and productive:

  • Schedule your projects like you would meetings. Embrace boundaries and set a timer if you need to move from one project to another, but shut one down before moving to the next. Your brain appreciates this level of clarity.
  • Reduce clutter. It’s difficult to focus when files and paperwork are scattered across your work space.
  • Silence all distractions such as email notifications and your phone to give your brain the space to be creative. Not giving into distractions allows you to dig deep, problem solve and turn a challenge around to see it from a new perspective.
  • Reduce your social media time. Your attention span will broaden the more time you spend off-line.
  • Allow yourself time every day to recharge. Recharging can be involve something you enjoy, something you find challenging or doing nothing at all.
  • Realize we’re all in the same boat. We’re all bombarded with simultaneously occurring tasks that pull our attention in different directions. Instead of stressing that your dog, toddler or teenager interrupts your Zoom call, be kind to yourself and share a laugh. Your colleagues understand.