The “40-hour week” has been getting longer for years. The average American works 47.5 hours per week – and that’s not even counting another 4.5 hours they spend catching up on extra work at home. These numbers are according to a study done by the National Sleep Foundation. No wonder, then, that we turn to things like multitasking in order to cheat the amount of time we have to spend at the office (or home office).
But as our responsibilities have continued to grow and technology has made it easier and easier to stay in immediate contact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, many experts have started asking questions about how effective multitasking really is. Does it truly allow you to get more done? And are we able to accomplish our work with the same level of quality?
Look around a bit and you’ll find that opinions vary. Some say multitasking is a godsend that keeps them from having a huge stack of work left to do at the end of the traditional work-day. Others argue that it doesn’t actually let you do more because each individual task takes longer when you aren’t able to focus your full attention on it.
So, which point of view is right? As usual, both. There are appropriate situations when multitasking is necessary and other situations where it’s just not the best route to take. This is exactly why we wanted to present our version of a pros and cons list to let you know when multitasking is likely to be the most helpful and effective, and when it might actually hamper achieving your goals.
Multitasking is good for…
- Simple tasks. Talking on the phone while ironing, dusting, or sweeping probably isn’t going to distract you so much from the task at hand that it will hamper your work; in fact, it might actually make the work more bearable by providing you with something to alleviate your mind from the drudgery.
- Waiting. Admittedly, “waiting” doesn’t seem like much of a task, but think about how much time we spend waiting every day? We wait for the coffee machine to spit out enough for a cup, for our computers to boot up, in line to place our lunch orders, on hold with customer service, and while sitting through the previews at movies. If instead we spent some of that time checking emails, reading papers, or making our grocery list, it would probably save us an extra half hour every day.
- Focus. It may seem counterintuitive to say that multitasking improves focus, but it’s true in the way that we mean it. If you’re used to dealing with multiple things at once, it’s far easier to filter out those things you’re not interested in when there’s a lot of commotion going on around you.
- Dealing with interruptions. What is multitasking if not a way of self-interrupting? In office settings where you can be interrupted by numerous people numerous times a day, it’s a valuable skill to learn how to stop and start quickly.
Multitasking is bad for…
- Deep thinking. If you’re trying to multitask on anything that actually requires a decent amount of your attention, you’re doing yourself a disservice and your work will likely suffer because of it.
- Procrastination. People who “multitask” are often just finding ways to distract themselves from the real task at hand.
- Efficiency. Yes, multitasking can actually hurt the very thing it’s trying to improve. How so? Because all too often what we’re really doing is creating unnecessary busywork for ourselves because we’ve become accustomed to our brains always doing several things at once. Moreover, people who multitask sometimes find that they have to reorient their brains to the new task and remember what they were doing, which wastes time whenever they switch over.
- Relaxing. Again, something that multitasking is trying to achieve for you, that being more time to relax, can actually be hurt by engaging in it. Why? Because when we train our brains to split focus, it’s hard to simply shut that off when we want/need to.
So, is multitasking advisable? Well… it depends. You really need to think about what you’re gaining by doing it versus what you might be losing, and always be sure that you’re only using it on things that don’t require much of your concentration.
About the Author:
Aileen Pablo is part of the team behind Open Colleges one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning. When not working, Aileen blogs about education and career. She is often invited as a speaker in Personality Development Seminars in the Philippines. If you are interested in featuring her works in your blog, you can find her on https://plus.google.com/115271393530477091582/posts.