We’ve all been primed to believe that multitasking is a key skill that employers seek when recruiting for a role, and as a society, we’re often told that it makes us better, more productive, employees. But does it really help you get things done faster and does it help you produce your best work? Well, chances are, probably not. So, before you go writing that popular little detail on your resume or boasting about it in interviews, we’re here to debunk some of the common multitasking myths.

What is multitasking?

Multitasking is defined as doing multiple tasks at one time. It’s the ability to work on various things simultaneously, instead of focusing on one thing and going to the next. While that’s a beautiful idea, the human brain doesn’t exactly work that way. Physically, we’re unable to focus on more than one thing at the same exact time, and so multitasking should really be described as the ability to work on tasks consecutively or back and forth, accomplishing a little of each in the process. In practice, multitasking interrupts focus and jumbles any clear dedicated thoughts into mixed and hazy ones. So, the premise, while admirable in nature, is really more of a misbranded technique than a productive one. To explain our point, here are three multitasking myths:

1. You’re getting more done

Focus is a key element in anyone’s success story. We can’t write books or proposals or prepare for an important meeting without it. In fact, we can’t do much of anything without it. Multitasking allows segments of focus and short intervals of semi-concentrated time, but it’s sporadic and chaotic when you’re moving to and from things so often. This leaves little room to see work through to the end and actually limits the level of work you’re finishing. To test this theory, try multitasking one day and completing tasks one at a time the next, then measure the amount of work you’ve completed each day or crossed off your to-do list.

2. It reduces burnout

Our minds are all wired differently, but multitasking doesn’t exactly aid burnout, it enforces it. Burnout tends to happen when we leave little room for breaks and overwork ourselves, or when we feel disorganized and overwhelmed. Trying to work on a million things at once encourages stress. It doesn’t help it. Instead, find a balance and a schedule. Allocate time for exercising, walks, water breaks, lunch, and socializing. And use those work hours to tick tasks off your list one at a time.

3. Your quality of work is better

Quality and consistency go hand in hand. The best work is typically done when you’re dedicated to it and pay attention to the details. So, with little time to dig deep or pay attention, mistakes tend to flourish and the overall quality of what you’re producing is far from top-notch. Try gauging the depth and value of the work you’re doing while multitasking, and if it’s not something you’re proud of, rearrange your workday a little differently.

The negatives of multitasking

Above we’ve delved into the common myths associated with multitasking and provided a few alternate suggestions, but beyond this, it’s important to highlight the negatives and the impact it can have on your job.
With multitasking…
  • There’s a tendency to lose track of time and overwork
  • Work-life balance is difficult to maintain
  • It’s easier to miss key details or leave out important information
  • You lack focus and can struggle to motivate yourself to polish off tasks
  • Your work gets slowed down and never quite picks up speed
  • It leaves little room for creativity to flourish
  • It draws your attention away from the most important task
It might be true that multitasking also has its benefits, for example, it allows us to maintain interest or keeps our paws in multiple jars, but it also has a habit of tricking us into thinking that the work we’re doing is our best or that we’re finishing our duties within a reasonable timeline. Most employers hire people who produce quality work, think outside of the box, manage tasks effectively and are productive throughout the day. They aren’t seeking people who complete portions of projects at a time or lack the ability to hone in on the essential stuff. So, the technique itself, when broken down and dissected, holds little value. As a worker, the work you’re putting out into the world is a reflection of your abilities and the role that you play within a team environment. Your work is your chance to sell yourself and become the kind of worker that not only your company wants you to be, but also the kind of worker that you want to be. Find a productive groove that works for you, but don’t dismiss the harmful side effects of multitasking. It could be the one thing that’s holding you back.
Caitlin Kerr

Written by

Caitlin Kerr