Multitasking

multitask workerNowadays, if you want to get employed in a prospective company, you need to be outstanding in order to withstand competition. Employers often promote inflated standards to their would-be workers, even if their duties include only xerox copying or sharpening pencils. One of the qualities crucial for any employee is multitasking; throughout the recent decade, it has become almost a cult. However, although it is believed that a multitasking person can complete more work within the same amount of time compared to a “regular” worker, in fact multitasking is not only ineffective, but also harmful for those who try to spread their energy on working on several projects at once.

So called “multitasking” is actually not what everyone thinks it is – simultaneous work in several different directions. In fact, multitasking should be called “task switching.” According to Guy Winch, PhD and the author of the book “Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries,” our brains are not capable of maintaining constant attention towards several objects at once. “It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum,” Guy Winch says (Health.com). So, a person has to constantly switch from one activity to another, without getting themselves fully engaged in at least one of them.

If you think this is productive, you are wrong. The negative effect of multitasking on productivity has been proven by numerous researchers; one of the most recent experiments proving this statement has been conducted by the researcher Zhen Wang. The participants of her experiment who were told to do several things simultaneously displayed an increased feeling of being pleased with themselves, and in these terms multitasking might be beneficial; however, when it came to evaluating the results of the tasks these people were to accomplish, it turned out that they are much worse compared to people who were free to prioritize their activities and do things one at a time (Lifehack.org).

Multitasking being bad for work is just half of the problem; the second half of it lies in the fact that spreading your energy on several tasks at once is detrimental not just for your productivity, but for yourself as well. Over-stimulation caused by your brain being constantly bombarded by incoming external stimulation (such as phone calls, requests, new tasks, and so on) puts you at risk of becoming unable to distinguish what is important and what is not. In 2009, a group of researchers from Stanford University led by Clifford Nass, Ph.D., figured out that multitasking participants were distracted the most by unimportant information stored in their short-term memory; multitasking people also tend to forget their tasks’ details, thus becoming less able to perform them well. Besides, multitasking leads to the increase of stress levels, burnout, employee absences, disability, and so on (Chron). Therefore, sometimes it can be useful for office workers to turn off notifications on their smartphones, and pay all their attention to just one task at a time.

Efficient multitasking is a myth brought to life by employers’ desire to have fewer workers who would do more work in the same amounts of time. Multitasking is actually nothing else but switching between tasks, as the human brain is simply not capable of maintaining attention on different tasks for a long time. Research shows that multitasking does not lead to an increase of productivity; on the contrary, multitasking workers show worse results compared to their non-multitasking colleagues; they also tend to have problems with memory and display increased stress levels, which inhibits workers’ morale and leads to their absences and other negative effects. Therefore, employers and employees should stop deceiving themselves, and return to the good old way of working: one task at a time.

References

“12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now!” Health.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.

“Why Multitasking Is Bad for You.” Lifehack. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.

“Bad Effects of Multitasking.” Chron. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.

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