Why Multi-Tasking Isn’t As Good For You As You Think!

Posted: July 31, 2014

While multi-tasking may seem the divine answer to women who aspire to have it all, it really is a bittersweet potion hampering your productivity.

We were driving in downtown Manhattan wading through the thick evening traffic. My husband was responsible for following the directions the GPS barked out periodically. All was going smooth until he missed a turn. The GPS did not recalculate soon enough, I got my I’m-better-at-directions-than-you hat on and to top it off, our friend (whose house we were driving to) was calling us.

In exactly three seconds, my husband pulled over. He could not talk to his buddy, listen to the GPS and follow my directions all at the same time. In other words, like most men, he sucked at multi-tasking.

Women, on the other hand, wear their multi-tasking badge with great pride. I routinely talk to my mother on the phone while cooking all the while supervising my son tackling the puzzles. Multi-tasking was in my genes. If I could tackle my chores in less time loading on as many tasks as possible, why couldn’t he? Were women naturally gifted to multi-task?

Instead of subjecting himself to the ordeal my husband backed out and waited for the GPS to recalculate. We arrived just five minutes late. Looking back, was it better to slow down and say no more often?

What you should know about multi-tasking

Women are not better than men: To begin with, there is no scientific research that strongly advocates that women are better at multi-tasking. We just think we are and overload ourselves.

Although studies show that women do possess higher level of cognitive control required for performing executive functions there is no substantial proof. So, the next time your husband seems distracted by the game when you are talking to him, it’s because he is not really listening. And two can play that game.

Multi-tasking lowers productivity: Multi-tasking requires two types of information to be processed or carried out simultaneously. Like talking and driving. These are not habitual no matter how many times you have performed them.

The brain can handle only a certain amount of tasks and multi-tasking overloads it. As you increase the number of tasks, you are prone to errors. The next time you are in a meeting, try to monitor your actions. If you overload yourself by writing a report or answering memos, are you equally attentive at the meeting?

Multi-tasking makes you less efficient: Although multi-tasking makes us feel emotionally good, our brain is not wired to handle two dissimilar tasks at once. Google has declared certain meetings as no laptop zones simply because attendees were missing important information in meetings while they had their laptops open.

In my house, when I work, my toddler understands that his mom is working and does not disturb me. When I play with him, I make sure every gadget is closed and he has my full attention. Playing and working simultaneously disrupts my work and his behavior. We are with Google on this one.

Multi-tasking is a stress inducer: My husband has an office Blackberry. That single sentence is enough to highlight that within five minutes of arrival (at home) he checks it a million times. To answer emails, check his calendar, approve tasks and sometimes (I suspect) awaiting mails that have not yet arrived in his inbox.

This “it will take only a second” mania has severe emotional and physical effects. It makes us easily distracted and results in a condition called Attention Deficit Trait (ADIT). So we now have a new house rule. We have gadget free days, say no to the blinking Blackberry and have no devices during dinner. We talk, listen and communicate.

Women and the multi-tasking trap

As women, we are conditioned with the need to do more in less time. Be it at work or at home, if you can work simultaneously the workload, the more efficient we can get. But hopscotching from one task to another may not be the answer. Multi-tasking is not making you a miracle woman; it is rather screwing up several things all at once.

What can be done?

  • Prioritize: Everybody has high and low value tasks. The key is to order them based on the 80-20 rule. If you prioritize your tasks based on urgency and time, you can structure your day accordingly to get most of the work done.
  • Do not disturb: Turn off email notifications, Facebook alerts and all other sources of distractions until you complete the task at hand. This helps you focus better, reduces time and improves the accuracy of the end result.
  • Focus: Like the world famous celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, take time to get everything in order before you start the task. This ensures that there are minimal interruptions all the while increasing the chance of a complete output.

Successful multi-tasking is an oxymoron; a myth that drives us nuts. You are a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and an employee – your list of to-dos is endless and that is how it is always going to be.

Multi-tasking is not the answer but an excuse. Apply the brakes and stop juggling; instead ask for help, say no and prioritize. This way you will not screw up.

Pic credit: rgmcfadden (Used under a CC license)

Meera R Corera (@meeraramanathan) is a freelance writer and blogger focusing on all things India —

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