I was in a meeting at work the other day and at one point realized that I was doing three separate things at the same time: Listening, answering emails, and working on a presentation I needed to finish by end of day. To be honest, I multitask, especially in long meetings with lots of people. My rationale is that there isn’t enough hours in the day and I need to get a lot done, so I try to cram every hour with getting as much work done as possible.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that all this multitasking means that I’m not really doing any of the things I’m working on really well. There have been plenty of meetings where I tune out (doing other work) and miss important parts. And I bet my presentation would be better if I didn’t work on it while trying to listen to another one in the meeting.
My multitasking isn’t limited to work. When I cook I often try to catch up on work email when I have a few minutes free from stirring/cutting/pouring, which has often resulted in dishes burning or overflowing. I’ve made a conscious effort to not multitask when I’m hanging with my kiddo (meaning, no answering emails while we’re sitting in the park or having dinner together), but you’d definitely catch me catching up on emails during her piano lessons.
And even when I’m not doing several things at once, I’m often switching from one task to another in rapid succession — check email, answer call, work on a document, check email, run to a meeting, and so on.
There are many studies showing that multitasking makes it more difficult to remember things, learn things, be productive at what we’re doing, or get things done efficiently. Our brains, it seems, weren’t built to handle doing several things at once or constantly and quickly switching focus from one task to another. Yet we’re multitasking more and more; I’m sure there are many statistics about this, but just look at your day and you’ll probably see this pattern. In our always connected — email, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phone, computer — and busy world, multitasking is something most of us think we have to do.
I don’t know if I can be 100% successful but it’s a habit I’m trying to kick. Not only because the quality of whatever I produce while I multitask isn’t great (from my presentations to my cooking), but because it makes me feel more frazzled and pulled in a gazillion directions. My yoga teacher said the other day that she hopes the hour-long class is a break we all need from doing a million things at once and just focusing on one thing — breathing. I’m not a serious yogi, but one of the reasons I like yoga is because for the hour that I’m doing it I am not multitasking and I feel it helps me focus better even after class. Perhaps reducing how much I multitask at work and at home can help me do that also.
I promise to report back on my progress with kicking my multitasking habit, but I’d love to hear from you: Do you find yourself multitasking all the time? Do you feel that it affects you negatively or you’ve figured a way to make it work?