Multi-tasking is detrimental to mental health and profession

The work-from-home situation due to the prolonged lockdowns resulting from the Pandemic means many are now increasingly seeing the home-life and work boundaries blurring.

Working from home means juggling office Zoom calls and deadlines along with interruptions from kids, a family member, or pets. 

Sometimes it’s impossible to focus on just one task at a time. Working on a project with a kid on your lap, answering queries from someone else, and keeping an ear out for something cooking in the kitchen may make you feel Herculean, but it is a fallacy.

work from home working mothers

Many think that multitasking is an art they have mastered and they are able to handle many things done at a time easily.

Working and handling the cooking is different from talking on the phone while power biking or preparing dinner. Multitasking at work often involves handling two cognitively demanding tasks together.

Several studies have shown that switching between tasks means incomplete and sloppily done work. Georgetown Professor Cal Newport, says,“Many people have convinced themselves that it’s crucial that they are always connected, both professionally and socially, but the reality is that this requirement is self-imposed,” he says. “Shallow tasks like reading and responding to emails or checking social media might prevent you from getting fired, but it’s deep tasks that produce the value and build the skills that get you promoted.”

The constant switching of gears takes a toll on our brains. It saps our energy without us realizing. We are under the impression of achievement and continue to function haphazardly, and in the long run harm both pur personal and professional life.

In his new book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Newport says it’s the bouncing around from task to task, or multitasking, that deteriorates the brain muscles that allow you to focus. And the more you multitask, the less comfortable you’ll be “going deep for extended periods of time,” he writes.

In fact, if you cannot sit down and go deep into your work or concentrate, then it is time to switch jobs.

Obviously, there are times during this Pandemic where we all have to multitask, especially if you’re a parent. But, most times, the choice of multitasking is a less efficient way of handling work.

Here are some fallacies that we want to debunk about multitasking.

A sense of accomplishment after performing myriad tasks simultaneously: This feeling of accomplishment is a false sense of achievement. Multitaskers often achieve sub-optimal levels of each task, but the sense of satisfaction is greater than the reality, and hence, it becomes more difficult to break the cycle.

 

Switching between tasks means you tackle more tasks in lesser time and save on energy: Sorry to disappoint you, but the truth is that when you force yourself to shift from one mentally taxing job to another, you are using up more energy and mentally draining yourself. There is something called attention residue that prevents you from focusing on the switched task as your mind is still taken up with the previous task. Your mind is still grappling with the phantom of whatever work you were doing previously.

 

“Even a quick glance between an article you’re reading to your inbox can “drastically reduce your cognitive function,” says Newport.

 

A belief that the more gadgets you are able to handle, you get better at multitasking: Many people routinely sit with the phone and laptop on, on their desktop, happy in their belief that taking breaks on the phone perusing your social media is a form of a break. It is almost an addiction and very difficult to wean oneself from this habit and belief that the small interruption or a glance at who sent you the “message” will not interfere with your work flow.

This is not to say that we should not answer the phone while working or talk to a colleague while cooking or sorting clothes. There are undemanding tasks and do not take tax the grey cells much. These are physical activities that can be done by rote. But anything beyond such routine tasks requiring some cognitive inputs needs to be handled independently and with full concentration.

According to research from Stanford, the more people multitask, the more the brain gets used to functioning at lower concentrations levels. In other words, at scatterbrained level. Your creativity suffers, mostly the task will lose out on some useful insight that you could have achieved with full concentration, and worst of all, your emotional intelligence too suffers. In some cases, it can even drop your IQ by multiple points, says the research.

Jane Harper
Writer. Human resources expert and consultant. Follow @thehrdigest on Twitter

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