Multitasking Doesn’t Benefit You Or Your Job

Originally published on Everyday Feminism.

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Being good at juggling many things is something I was always told to say in a job interview: “Yes, I can handle multiple projects.” “Sure, I can take that on as well! Not a problem.”

No matter how good we are at balancing all the pieces of life, all of the boxes (even that one way up there on the top) are getting more attention than the person holding them.

And this isn’t just in our careers.

Think about how much we switch from the phone to the friend in front of us, or to cleaning up the meal to go move the car, and then pick up a child at a friend’s house.  And while we are in the process of moving here and there, our minds are also playing catch up.

When I look at the above, I don’t see the individual; all I see are the tasks. Where are our own lives in this equation?

Multitasking means we’re likely doing more for other people than we are for ourselves.  And as if that isn’t a red flag on its own, here are some reasons why multitasking does more harm than good.

1. Sleep Deprivation

In case you haven’t noticed, the culture we live in is kind of work-obsessed.  I’ve heard people try to one-up one another regarding who’s been at an office earlier or stayed longer hours. I’ve seen to-do lists that run onto more than one, two, three pages.

For some reason, we think that if we work a lot, we get a lot done — that if we do a lot, we get a lot done.

We also believe that we “should” be able to do everything that’s asked of us, and we feel like failures if we can’t live up to expectations.

Here’s the deal though: When we work longer hours, we sleep less.

When we sleep less, we’re less alert, grumpier and more agitated, and also more susceptible to illness, weight fluctuation, and stress. If you think back on some good days, I’ll bet in all of them, you got enough sleep.

“There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is classified as a form of torture and is a common strategy employed by religious cults,” writes Arianna Huffington in her book Thrive.

“They force prospective members to stay awake for extended periods to reduce their subjects’ decision making ability and make them more open to persuasion.”

What We Can Do About It

Some of us don’t have the flexibility to change our work hours, but we do have the ability to become more efficient at work so that we don’t have to stay late.  Ask yourself: How can I do this more efficiently? What limits or constraints can I put in place that will get me out of here on time?

If we put a container around our work, it forces us to work within its limits.

Next thing you’ll know, you’re out of the office on time and boosting your well-being to the top of the pile.

2. ‘Never Enough’ Mentality

When you wake up in the morning and already have a list of things to get done (or while on the way to work or to drop off kids at school, you’re thinking of the laundry, taking a shower, meeting friends, and cleaning up), one of your first thoughts may be that you’ll never have enough time for all of what you need to get done.

This “never enough” mentality is often what comes with a multitasker’s way of life — because not only are we trying to do everything, but we’re also trying to be great at all of what we’re doing.

This idea of “not having enough” supports the expectation we may have of ourselves to be better than we are.

“Perfectionism is not the key to success,” writes Brené Brown in Daring Greatly.

“In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities.”

What Can We Do About It

Start tricking your mind into believing that you have enough time.

Whenever you feel like you don’t have enough time, tell yourself that you do. Whenever you feel rushed, tell yourself you have plenty of time to arrive at where you need to be.

Turn the negative into a positive.

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3. Perpetuates the Need to Please

Most of the reason why we often take on multiple tasks is to earn approval.  Especially in the beginning of working with someone or a new company, and even at home or with friends, we often feel like we have to prove ourselves.

Some of us, in a sense, want to be praised for what we do, wanting others to wonder how it all got done.

This kind of behavior can become addictive. Because if we aren’t able to perform all that we set out to do, we feel an even greater responsibility to take on more to prove that we can.  The desire to please takes us away, again, from prioritizing ourselves. The focus is on catering to the other, rather than on making sure we feel good or are doing what’s in line with our own wants and needs.

The more we please others, it’s possible the less we’re pleasing ourselves.

What Can We Do About It

Before you say yes to another project or raise your hand to bake 80 cookies for a birthday party, ask yourself why you’re doing it.

Then ask yourself if you’ll feel less-than if you say no. Or will you feel empowered?

4. No Present Moment

Running around everywhere all the time doesn’t leave much room to enjoy the moment you’re experiencing or even the ones after the day is done.  It’s possible that by the time you get to your bed, you’re so burnt out from the day that just thinking about it can knock you out completely.

What multitasking does is make everything a top priority. There is no clarification of something being more urgent or important.  Most of multitasking is broken down into time increments, but all of it feels extremely important.

“And when everything is high priority,” write the founders of 37 Signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson in their book Rework, “nothing is.”

What this urgency creates, say Fried and Hansson, is artificial stress, which leads to burnout.

When we’re on the move, it’s hard not to live on autopilot because that’s how many of us cope, how we get through the day. But it’s the minute you stop and think about what you’re doing that you’re actually doing it.

What Can We Do About It

Start to witness your interactions with your clients, supervisors, friends, family, and kids.  Start observing yourself in time and space.

The more aware you are of what you’re doing each day, the more you’re participating in your own life.

Of course, there’s no way to eliminate multitasking completely from our lives, but we can create ways to make it healthier for us.

Cynthia Kane is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. Over the last year and a half, she’s relearned the following: how to jump up and down when she’s happy, cry when she’s sad, laugh when something’s funny, take a compliment, smile at strangers, and be open to the fact that everyone is going through it all the time. For more, visit her  website  or follow her on Twitter  @cynkane.