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The myth of multitasking | Torrens University Australia

The myth of multitasking

Many of us believe that we can efficiently work on many things at once, seamlessly switching back and forth between tasks.

Have you ever sat in a lecture whilst at the same time sketching out ideas for another subject’s assessment? Or had a Facebook conversation while researching for a project? These are some of the many examples of multitasking.

In our time-poor world, multitasking seems like a sound strategy to get more done and become more productive.

But in reality, it’s flawed.

Research shows, rather than making us more effective, multitasking:

  • Impairs efficiency
  • Lowers productivity
  • Increase stress
  • Impacts effectiveness

Longer term, multitasking inhibits deep thinking and problem-solving skills.

Whether multitasking is a deliberate strategy or we’re simply easily distracted (and distractions have never been more convenient), most of us are guilty.

In contrast, unitaskers are clear about their priorities and work on one task at a time.

Sometimes this is simple (unless you’re a professional influencer, updating your Instagram feed is rarely a priority!), but often we have competing priorities.

Here are some strategies to help:

Focus on Quick and Easy wins

Are there any quick and easy wins (tasks that you can complete in 30 minutes or less)? Some experts disagree, but I find picking the ‘low hanging fruit’ creates momentum for the more challenging tasks to be tackled.

‘Eat the frog’ first

Alternatively, ‘eat the frog’ first: start with your most challenging & demanding task or the activity that you are most likely to procrastinate about. Once you have this out of the way, the rest of the day’s tasks will seem a breeze.

Write down your priorities

Whichever approach works for you, write down your priorities for the day. Keep your list short (other than the ‘low hanging fruit’, keep it to a maximum of three tasks). These three tasks should be small bites of your larger goals. For example, the larger goal is to successfully complete your assignment by the due date and the immediate task is to sketch three different design concepts.

Save your energy 

Work on the task that requires the most creative energy first, when you are at your freshest and most inspired.

Get started

Even when you not feeling inspired, just get started. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Yes, the first five to ten minutes will be a struggle, but the simple act of starting will create its own momentum.

“Despite the disguise of productivity, multitasking, in the long run, actually inhibits deep thinking and problem-solving skills.”

Finish your tasks, one by one

This is quite simple but with so much going on sometimes we forget what we’re working and suddenly have a million tabs open on our computer. Instead, work on each prioritised task until it is completed, or at least until you come to a natural break, before moving onto the next one.

Find a place where you won’t be disturbed

Avoid creative work or deep thinking if you are likely to be interrupted. Research show it takes almost 25 minutes to get back in the creative flow after an unrelated interruption.

Take regular breaks

Good news: a break is not a distraction, it’s a refresher. Five minutes every thirty minutes is good. Take a short walk, make yourself a coffee. Then get right back to the task at hand.

Give yourself some credit

Recognise that some days will be more productive than others. Some days you will speed through your list, other days you’ll struggle to complete one task. And that’s okay. Simply review and re-prioritise your list for the next day.

Like any behavior, breaking the multitasking habit (whether conscious or unconscious) takes time and effort. But becoming a unitasker is an effective and proven strategy to improve productivity.

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