Centr Team

5 ways we multitask (and why they don’t work)

Centr Team

Despite decades of research that pokes gaping holes in the myth of the productive multitasker, many of us still try and do everything at once.

Never before in history have we had such easy access to so many distractions, most of which are available at the click of a button. Our constant use of technology, demanding professions and busy social lives require us to focus on countless tasks all at once – so what gives?

First up, a clarification: true multitasking – doing multiple things simultaneously – isn’t really possible. What most of us call multitasking is really just switching between different tasks very quickly. And unfortunately, most of us aren’t as good at it as we think we are. The effect on our productivity can be pretty disastrous.

Research has shown that switching between different tasks regularly (aka ‘multitasking’) can eat up to 40 percent of your working time. And the problems don’t end there. Task-switching often results in poorer performance of each task, and can even make us feel sad and fearful. Yikes.

Despite the evidence, breaking the ‘multitasking’ habit can be very difficult. It presents differently in each of us, and you might not even be aware you’re doing it. To help you get the most out of work (and play), we’re spotlighting five common types of multitasker, so you can identify where you fit and find a fix.

The Avoidant

Works on multiple things because the truly important task is making them anxious.

How to stop: Find yourself switching between the presentation you’re putting together for your boss and a bunch of smaller, more trivial tasks? When we’re nervous about getting a big job right, some of us avoid facing it head-on by distracting ourselves with busywork.

But the cold, hard reality is that avoiding the scary task won’t make it go away. As we’ve covered, attempting to multitask will only eat into your productive time. So be realistic about what your priority is and carve out some time to focus on that – and only that. Preferably, this will be at a time of day when you’re least likely to have distractions. You can coordinate your team for quiz night later, we promise.

The Collector

Gets so excited by new ideas that their tasks gather dust.

How to stop: You’re sitting at your desk, ready to crack into today’s to-do list. Suddenly, a digital ping lets you know that your colleague is looking for input on their latest project. Your mind starts racing with ideas, and it would be a shame not to offer your insight straight away, right?

Our brains have a love/hate relationship with new stimuli. On the one hand, it excites and intrigues us. On the other hand, we’re not always very good at figuring out when we should ignore it. If you have a tendency to get distracted by each new bit of information or potential task that crosses your path, your key work might be suffering.

So set aside an hour in your day that is dedicated to assisting others or offering input on things you’re not directly involved with. That way, you can still get the creative buzz that comes from working on stuff that’s outside your wheelhouse without sacrificing your own productivity.

The cold, hard reality is that avoiding the scary task won’t make it go away.

The Social Addict

Forever scrolling and waiting for the rush of a new notification.

How to stop: OK, so this isn’t entirely your fault. Social media is literally designed to exploit the part of your brain that releases dopamine when you have a positive social interaction.

But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. If you find yourself compulsively scrolling when you’re meant to be focused on other things, you could benefit from setting yourself some social media time limits (most phones have a setting that allows you to do that). You might feel anxious at first, but pretty soon you’ll be able to enjoy hanging with friends or chill time fully, without the mental crutch of your social feeds.

The Always On

Tries to combine work with chill time.

How to stop: Think you can work while watching a movie with your roommate and get the best of both worlds? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This kind of ‘media multitasking’ can have negative effects on your working memory – the part of your brain that stores information in the short term so you can make decisions and form opinions. Basically, you won’t get much work done and you won’t remember the movie.

Creating solid boundaries around work time and relaxation time is essential if you want to get the most out of either. So if you have to work after hours, do it away from distractions. Then you can join your roomie on the couch when you’re done.

The Rock Star

Thrives under pressure and loves to juggle tasks.

How to stop: Productivity is great. The illusion of productivity? Not so much. Are you the kind of person who only feels like you’re crushing it if you’ve got 25 internet browser tabs open at once while you work on three projects simultaneously? Consider this a wake-up call: you’re not doing as much as you think you are.

If you thrive under pressure and love to stay busy, you might benefit from using the Pomodoro Technique. A scheduling system that breaks your day into short but hyper-focused segments (with set break times) is often perfect for rock stars, as it allows you to work on varied tasks while minimizing the potential for distraction.

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