Not only is multitasking bad for business (and indeed academics), since ‘multitasking causes employees to pay partial attention to multiple items simultaneously’, but it also stresses us out, results in more errors, can lead to burnout and studies have shown it can even reduce IQ by as much as 15 points (similar to those who had stayed up all night in the experiment).
In his book, The Myth of Multitasking, Dave Crenshaw agrees, ‘Because our brains aren’t designed to focus on more than one active task at a time, we’re instead rapidly switching between tasks. This is always unproductive and causes us to pay switching costs’. In fact, research has shown that productivity can drop by as much as 40% as a result.
The antithesis to this is a what is referred to as the ‘flow state’ - something we often hear from creatives and professional sportsmen. Coined by Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘flow’ refers to being fully engaged with what you’re doing, undistracted by anything else that potentially could grab your attention.
Csikszentmihalyi noticed a concentration ‘flow’ when he studied artists, painters and musicians. He and his team of researchers concluded that we can all experience ‘flow’ when we fully engage with what we are doing. This type of ‘hyperfocus’ is also referred to as ‘being in the zone’ and it not only improves productivity but is also linked to increased motivation and satisfaction.
If you want to save time, feel less stressed and have a sharper mind, start giving your tasks your full, undivided attention and sequencing them rather than switching between them.
Sure, multitasking makes us look and feel busy and important, but it’s a myth and counterproductive on the whole. Instead, take frequent breaks, do one task at a time and you will start getting through those to-do lists much more efficiently.
Integrating knowledge of multitasking and interruptions across different perspectives and research methods - UCL Discovery
Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work – Cleveland Clinic
How Multitasking Erodes Productivity And Dings Your IQ (forbes.com)
Multitasking: Helpful or Harmful? (mheducation.com)
The ‘flow state’: Where creative work thrives - BBC Worklife
Multi-tasking is a myth (innerdrive.co.uk)
How to stop multitasking: 10 tips for being more productive | Metro News