A personal blog.

Against multitasking

  • Wed 19 October 2016
  • Blog

Multitasking is a feature of the microprocessor not a human's.

In the world surrounded by computer technologies, multitasking is something quite natural. Opening multiple tabs with different resources in a browser. Chatting with several people at a time. Sending an email when on a web conference call. Does it sound familiar? I observe it every day at work. My colleagues do multitask. So do I.

But let's see what we know about multitasking.

  • We don't actually multitask. We rapidly switch our attention from one task to another and interrupt our productivity.

  • Our productivity may go down by 40% when we attempt to focus on several things at once1.

  • It's not only counterproductive, it is also stressful2.

  • People who are constantly breaking away from tasks to react to email or text messages suffer similar effects as losing a night's sleep3.

  • Multitasking may be effective though when combining physical and mental activities. E.g. listening to a book while running. In terms of mindfulness though, it's still better to do one thing at a moment.

Given all that, it's quite funny to see job descriptions containing a requirement like “ability to handle multitasking activities”.

multitasking in job vacancies

Here're some guidelines I try to follow to avoid multitasking

  • I use Pomodoro sessions so that I'm focused on a particular task for at least 25 minutes.

  • When focusing on a task, I disable all messengers and notifications on my computer, and mute phone and other devices.

  • I don't want to be interrupted by incoming messages. Therefore, I use Inbox When Ready Chrome extension when composing and sending emails or searching information in Gmail without getting distracted.

  • In web meetings, I try to focus on a meeting, and not to send emails, chat with co-workers, browse web, etc.

  • I batch small similar tasks into one task that I take on later.

One last thing. If you're a manager, try to relieve your directs - as much as you can - from being distracted, too. Be responsible for others focus. Otherwise you're in charge of their productivity slowing down as well as stress level increasing.