Do you consider yourself an expert multitasker? Many busy moms believe that multitasking is the key to getting it all done. And sometimes multitasking is the only way to finish up some things, like listening to the last chapter in that audiobook you’ve been dying to complete, while simultaneously doing a load of laundry. But for our most important tasks, multitasking simply doesn’t work.
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What Is Multitasking?
Before we talk about why multitasking doesn’t work, let’s define what I mean when I use the term multitasking.
I know the definition may seem obvious, but let’s just be clear.
Multitasking is doing more than one task concurrently OR quickly switching back and forth between two things within the same time frame.
The truth is that we almost never do things simultaneously. Even if we try to do two things at once, our minds are really just rapidly switching focus back and forth between the two things.
We’ll talk more about this in a minute.
But for now, here are some common examples of multitasking:
- returning emails while listening to an audiobook
- talking on the phone while watching a movie
- helping out your child with homework while scrolling through your Facebook feed
- doing laundry while listening to music
- completing a work project on your computer while figuring out your childcare schedule with your spouse
In some of these examples, multitasking is probably okay (and may even be necessary just to get through the task, especially if you’re doing the laundry!)
But for others, like completing a work project or helping out your child with homework, you may want to rethink whether multitasking is a good idea.
Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work For Our Most Important Tasks:
Multitasking seems like a good idea.
In today’s busy world, who wouldn’t want to get more done in less time?
Our days are overflowing with things to do from the mundane (washing dishes, laundry, or making school lunches) to the very important (financial planning, working on our personal growth goals, or dealing with a family crisis).
We try to jam so many things into each day that we think that the only way to get them all done is to multitask. And for some things that belief is absolutely true — like in the earlier example of finishing that audiobook while doing laundry.
But for many other tasks, typically those that require more concentration, multitasking simply doesn’t work.
Like I mentioned earlier, we humans are simply not capable of completing two important tasks at the same time. At least, we aren’t capable of completing them well.
It’s really an issue of biology. Our brains are designed to process just one piece of information at a time. When we try to multitask, we are asking our brains to quickly switch back and forth between our activities or thoughts.
And our brains get overwhelmed. An overwhelmed brain is a brain that isn’t functioning at it’s best.
Overwhelmed Brains Have Many Problems
What happens to our brains when we try to multitask? A whole host of problems can ensue.
Here’s a list of some of some of the issues we may experience when we try to do more than one thing at a time. We may:
- Make more mistakes: When you are switching and back and forth between two things, the risk of error increases. I experienced the other day when I was trying to sign my name on a document, while at the same time calling out to my assistant at work. I started to sign my name with her name! My brain simply couldn’t process both pieces of information (both of our names) at the same time.
- Feel overwhelmed: This is a very common problem for many of us. We begin and end our days feeling overwhelmed. When this overwhelm continues for an extended period of time, we may experience anxiety or depression. (If you’re not practicing self-care on a daily basis, please add it to your schedule.)
- Experience anxiety or depression: If we continue on overdrive, our brains and our bodies will begin to suffer and we may end up with anxiety or depression. Left untreated, we may self-medicate with food, alcohol or something else. If you feel you are unable to cope with the stress of everyday life, I urge you to talk to your doctor.
- Focus on irrelevant information: When we’re in that state of rapidly switching back and forth, it’s harder to ignore irrelevant information. This means that we are being less productive and we are actually losing time by multitasking.
- Get less done: Like in the previous point, we may end up getting less done. You may need to redo tasks due to mistakes or errors. Or, you haven’t given yourself enough time to accomplish your task because you’re trying to do too many things at the same time.
When you look at this list, it is no wonder that so many of us feel stressed out and overwhelmed in today’s busy world.
So, what’s the solution?
Schedule Time to Monotask
For our most important tasks, the key to getting more done in less time is to do one task at a time.
This is called monotasking and it really works. But to effectively monotask, there are a few things you need to do.
First, you need to intentionally schedule time on my calendar to monotask. During my weekly review, I add in these blocks of time to solely work on my most important tasks.
Second, when you are monotasking, you need to make sure you can focus on your task. Here are my tips for monotasking:
- turn off your phone/devices (check out the Freedom App for help when trying to focus on computer tasks);
- pick a time when there is less risk of interruptions;
- complete your task in an environment where you can concentrate;
- have scheduled stretch/snack breaks if the task is going to take more than an hour; and
- put on instrumental/classical music if that helps you to focus (this is multitasking, but it helps many people to concentrate better!)
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do, skip multitasking and give monotasking a try. It may be the key to getting more done.
Are you a monotasker? If so, I’d love to hear your tips on time blocking in the comments section below.
With Love and Joy,