5 Reasons Multitasking is NOT a Good Thing in Business

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As many of us know, social media, email, and other computer activities can have a drastic impact on productivity. Based on many studies, people can only handle multiple tasks if they are simple or can be handled without thinking. For example: walking, talking, breathing, drinking, and similar tasks can all be performed without much thought. Conversely, tasks that require a certain level of focus and concentration like washing your hands, pouring a cup of coffee, or tying your shoes are not activities that can be performed at the same time. Activities like checking email, updating social media, and trying to write a proposal fall into the category of tasks that can NOT be effectively done at the same time – no matter how adept you are.

The human mind needs time to adapt to evolving situations. Even though it only requires a short period of time to refocus one’s mind, constant change can still have detrimental effects to overall productivity. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, multi-tasking can reduce productivity by up to 40%.

When people have one task to focus on they perform it far better. Researchers at the University of California-Irvine discovered that it requires about 20 minutes to regain concentration after a task is interrupted. Which means if you are flitting from task to task every 10 minutes or so, or trying to juggle multiple tasks at once, you are never really concentrating on any of them.

When people can vary their tasks during daily activities it is ideal because it stimulates creativity. Other interruptions are also positive such as socializing with co-workers, colleagues, and giving the mind a break to re-focus. But these need to be scheduled and handled in a way that allows a person to actually concentrate when it is time to work productively.

Negatives to multitasking include:

1. Increased Mistakes

People make more mistakes when they are overloaded with tasks to perform. Keeping track of multiple tasks reduces precision and focus because the mind is divided among unrelated tasks. Multi-tasking actually inhibits the ability to filter out irrelevant or inaccurate information.

2. Reduced speed in task completion

The popular belief is that multi-tasking saves time because multiple tasks are being performed at once. In reality, the time to complete tasks can be reduced when focus and concentration are funneled at one task at a time.

3. Increased employee anxiety

Perhaps one of the most serious consequences of multitasking for people is the fact that it increases anxiety. The mental exertion from constant interruption of work can be a punishing psychological block on productivity.

4. Diminished creativity

Coming up with innovative concepts often happens when there is sustained attention on a task. Frequently changing from activity to activity diminishes the ability for that to happen. The frontal lobe of the brain thrives when it is assigned very few tasks to focus on.

5. Unhealthy Brain Habits

Neuroscientists who have studied the issue and the people who multitask have concluded that our brains are simply not setup to handle multiple complex tasks at the same time. They claim that juggling multiple activities creates bad habits as our brains try to adjust.

They also state that when we perform minor tasks like composing and sending an email, we are rewarded with the hormone dopamine. Consequently this causes people to continue switching back and forth between tasks in pursuit of mental gratification as opposed to overall productivity.

Some experts have gone further in classifying constant checking of social media and email as an outright addiction. Humans are capable of performing multiple routine tasks at the same time however they brain is not capable of performing multiple complex tasks at the same time. This limitation originates in the prefrontal cortex or the central source of human intelligence. Being involved with many tasks at the same time interferes with the way the brain processes information.

Conclusions on Focus and Multitasking

Ultimately researchers concluded that avoiding temptation from distraction is one of the best methods of remaining productive. Actively avoiding multitasking on complex tasks by working in blocks of time is another viable method of being productive. In other words, set up blocks of time where you will work on specific tasks and avoid all other activities.

People also need to work on dispelling the myth that multitasking actually helps increase productivity. In some rare cases, it may actually speed things up to fill in down time related to one task by starting or working on another. In the vast majority of cases however, switching back and forth between tasks causes workers to slow down and make mistakes.