Multi-tasking: Does it really help?

We’re all part of the Alt-tab generation. This is a fact, and while most of us take great pride in juggling between windows, tasks, conversations, and sometimes even people, is it really a healthy practice? We are a generation of short attention-spans. If we’re reading, we read more than one book at a time, although not simultaneously. We switch between TV channels, we speak and listen to music while we drive. You get the idea. Just the thought of all of this seems exhausting; but we still do it. The question remains, how much of the things we juggle between are we executing effectively and efficiently? How many of those things are we really enjoying?

We have all been conditioned to be quick with reactions and fast with deliveries. What takes a hit is quality. We even take pride at being a multi-tasker. The simple truth is this – the human brain is not designed to handle multiple tasks at a time. While arguments of the ambidextrous and high IQ can be brought forth, fact remains that our multi-tasking lifestyle is not at all healthy. Here’s why:

First hit – Focus

Ask yourself this question. How much are you really focusing on when you shuttle between tasks. We’re sure that you’ve switched to your favourite social media at least once while you’ve been reading this feature. When you switch between activities, your brain has to do small reboots and retrieve old learned information every time a switch happens. This leads to finer details of the tasks to be lost. The result? Loss of focus. Think about it. If the tasks at hand are important enough for you to do at the same time, don’t you think they deserve a dedicated time and required focus?

The easiest way to induce stress

Have you ever lost your way while driving and reduced the volume of the music to help you think and understand the route better? This may be the most relatable example of how in a state of stress, the nerve-endings of your brain need to be opened up and relieved of information. Stress and anxiety affect us directly – mentally and physiologically, in turn leading to a decrease in productivity, promptness, and even good health. The phenomenon is called cognitive overload. While this sometimes cannot be avoided in the modern corporate environment, one must pick battles wisely, especially those with your brain.

Lapse of judgement

Apart from your personal life and health, the thing most affected by multi-tasking is your work. Would you rather do two tasks shoddily and deliver an unplanned, unfinished project before the deadline, or would you deliver a polished, planned piece of work on time? The choice is easy here. While your bosses may be momentarily impressed by your supposed timeliness, all it takes is a closer look for them to see that the tasks, while finished, are full of errors. Your judgement is drastically impaired when you’re multi-tasking, thanks to the auto-pilot that you go into. Remember, going on auto-pilot is more of a physiological act and a mental one. You are not a blue-collar professional. Most of what you do for a living requires mental faculties. Your concentration is automatically distributed when you multi-task, which leads to small errors, which lead to habits, which lead to trends, which lead to revenue loss to the company; and we all know the possible repercussions of that.

The term has become common in all modern work environments these days. We have all heard sayings pertaining to “Hard work and smart work”. But ask yourself this simple question. If a manner of working leads to errors so grave yet basic, is it really smart?