I know. You’re busy, you have a lot on your plate, and you may even think of multitasking as one of your secret strengths and productivity tools. This is a big mistake that many working women make—and it costs them.
Doing several things of low priority at once, like folding laundry while you watch TV, may not be a big deal—sometimes–but I encounter a lot of women who are priding themselves on almost never doing one thing at a time. It’s a big mistake.
Here are five reasons you should consider putting a halt to your multitasking ways:
1) Multitasking exhausts your brain and leads to diminished performance. The research is in. Our brains really don’t know how to focus on more than one deliberate task at a time. When we try, what we are really doing is forcing our brain to switch back and forth rapidly between tasks. Focus and performance suffer and it takes mental energy to perform this feat. Again, if you’re folding towels while watching the Oprah Winfrey Network, this may not matter to you, but beware of believing that having twelve windows open on your computer allows you to be a more productive.
2) Eating lunch at your desk (or doing anything else while you eat) leads to overeating. Women who multitask while eating eat more and feel less satisfied with what they have eaten. Period. If you are comfortable grabbing food while you are doing something else, you’re also more likely to unconsciously turn to food to soothe feelings or needs you may not be fully aware of—because you aren’t tuned in.
3) Constantly juggling activities creates stress. Switching between tasks takes away from your ability to be present, or grounded in what you are doing. When you do multiple things at the same time, your ability to be mindful and aware is compromised. You know those experiences of suddenly realizing that you haven’t eaten all day, or you have a pounding headache, or your neck is tied up in knots? These are signs that you have been out of touch with yourself and ungrounded. When you aren’t connected to what you are thinking and feeling, you aren’t able to respond to yourself effectively. This can make stress even worse, and lead to unhealthy strategies like emotional eating, spending, or lost time on tasks that don’t really matter.
4) You sacrifice pleasure. There is no flow in multitasking. One of the greatest pleasures for people who enjoy their work and their lives is the experience of becoming fully immersed and even lost in an activity. This is a state that positive psychologists call flow. The state of flow is an incredibly creative and productive place where big things happen. You won’t experience flow (or the results) if your project is constantly being interrupted to check your email, send a text, or follow another train of thought.
5) Multitasking affects memory. Trying to do too many things at once stresses your brain and affects the way information is stored. This can negatively affect your short term memory, which can affect your productivity, your effectiveness, and cause all sorts of problems.
There’s a sixth reason too. Living a life where you are always juggling, just doesn’t feel good. The stress, anxiety, distraction, and disconnection it creates are simply not a recipe for happiness. And isn’t that part of your plan? As difficult as it may be to imagine, there are alternatives. Stay tuned. In my next post, I’ll share some ways to let go of multitasking that can actually improve your well-being, your productivity, and help you start reducing stress.