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The Dark Side of Multitasking

The dark side of multitasking

In this world we live in, apparently multitasking is considered a superpower. Technology is enabling us to be more connected than ever and allows us to do more things at the same time. Listening to a podcast while preparing slides for our next presentation, answering emails and chats while having a 1:1 with someone on Zoom, etc. We’ve been conditioned to wear this level of busyness almost like a badge of honour. 


Is this really effective or is it slowing us down? 


Well, when I got back to work after a long leave I suddenly gained a new perspective on how I had been doing things until that point. During the first two weeks I started multitasking. I had my inbox open, reading communications that I had missed during those months and at the same time I was answering to chat messages and (why not?) scheduling the following meetings. Funny enough, I wasn’t getting as much done as I would have wanted. Was I being effective? No. Was I getting anxious? Definitely yes. 


If I would have continued working this way I don’t think I would have lasted long with mental sanity. So I decided it was time for a change. 


First of all, I decided I had to work on my priorities. I started my days with half an hour organising my day and looking at the big picture of what my goals were for the next quarter and started doing this regularly. 


I also realised that in reality a lot of times I wasn’t multitasking but simply switching context, which is really terrible to maintain focus and feel productive. 


Another change that I implemented was to analyse which were the tasks I could multitask and which not. What was the criteria? I would multitask things in which I didn’t have to think too much about (for example polishing a presentation so that I could have time to listen to a long meeting registration, moving some data from a platform to another, etc). I was on the other hand putting in focus time to finish tasks in which I had to be concentrated and would block the time and closing the chats. 


Did it work? Oh yes it did. 


Do I always do it? No, because sometimes I get into my old habits and I’m also a victim of FOMO that happens in chats, be it group chats or single chats and I'm afraid of not being fast enough in answering messages when people reach out to me. 


BUT it’s still super helpful to be aware of it and steer my course when I see I start getting nervous again, reminding myself that you don’t need to be a crazy multitasking person to be productive. 


In summary, we all multitask from time to time. It is not a bad thing, but it can become a bad habit when we think we are doing a lot of things at once, while in reality we are not paying attention and being mindful of what we are doing at all. 


Some tips to avoid multitasking could be the following that have been useful for me: 


  • Learn to prioritise: Prioritise and limit the number of things you are dealing with in a precise moment to just one and finish it

  • 25 min focus: Instead of shifting from one task to another, invest 25 min time on one task with a 5 min break. This is called the pomodoro technique and you can even find videos on youtube to help you set this up: Pomodoro Technique 

  • Checking emails and messages: Yes, it can be hard not to check your inbox. So why not set a specific time to review? It will help you feel less anxious. 

  • Less distractions: No phone, look for a quiet place and if background noise is present, you can even look for music that can help you concentrate (on my spotify list there are a lot of classical music playlists) 

  • Mindfulness: I have seen that practising mindfulness has helped me a lot. I often feel like I don’t have enough time but you can always find those 5 min per day. 

  • Aromatherapy: yes, you hear me. Finding the right scents to focus also helps. I’ve read about different studies and my top choices this year have been lavender, jasmine, rosemary, peppermint and lemon. Depending on my mood and what I need I would choose one among the others.  


What has worked for you in your experience? Let me know if you have any other suggestions, I would be super keen to hear. 


Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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