Friday, February 1, 2008
Multitasking Can Bite You
Multitasking has become a way of life for many of us. Women work, care for kids, do household chores, AND, try to keep up with all the communication going on with email, cell calls, etc. Men, who are known for not being as communicative as women, are changing that with electronic devises that keep businesses functioning and people connected these days. Multitasking allows us to do a lot more. But is this a good thing?
I remember when I did one thing at a time. There were no cell phones, emails, Internet distractions, text messenging, and we just ate blackberries. People talked to each other. I went to work, maybe called a friend or two when I could. Returning home meant preparing dinner, a little chatting or TV. For those of you in the Gen Y generation who don’t know what I’m talking about, those were days of less stress and often getting more things done well.
I miss those times!
Lately I’ve heard several talk show hosts discuss that multitasking has been found to often be more of a curse than a blessing. My initial reaction was “that’s ridiculous!” But I listened and thought about the multitasking lifestyle I developed over the years to fit more into my days. It allows little time for just chilling. I’m doing stuff till I go to sleep. Then I have trouble going to sleep as I lie there planning all the things I must do the next day. Relaxation has become rare.
The main point of the curse theory is often true—some quality of work is sacrificed in the flurry of secondary activities.
I can’t remember when I began to be a proud multitasker. It’s become almost impossible to just sit back and watch a movie at home without my laptop, magazine, mail to sort through or bills to pay. Talking on the phone usually includes a secondary task. I do squats and toe tips while I brush my teeth and write with one eye on the emails coming in. All this in an effort to get more done in my waking hours!
In the attempt to get more into my days, my work has begun to suffer, but I’m usually too busy to notice.
Since my multitasking began, I’ve made many efforts to take my laptop to a coffee shop or the park when the weather permits. Now I realize I love it so much because I’m way more productive when I’m out, especially in a place with no wireless signal. I write and write with no distractions. Happily! At home the phone rings, emails come in, I think of things I should do in the middle of my writing. Three hours of that leaves me frustrated about not getting enough writing done. And I often have to go over it more than I used to because writing without 100% attention creates more mistakes and unclear thoughts.
I also get more writing done on holidays, when businesses are closed and emails and calls slow down. I once stayed home on Thanksgiving just to write, and it was worth it! So now I’m asking myself,
“Is multitasking really helping me?”
When I heard it referred to as a curse, I became more aware of how trying to juggle lots of things isn’t making me more efficient. It sometimes makes me sloppy. While multitasking allows for many things in a day, it’s hard to give full attention to any of them. I’ve become a real good juggler, but had to ask myself if it’s worth the downsides:
* When you juggle simultaneous tasks, you always have to be “on.” The higher energy it generates doesn’t allow for relaxing easily.
* It’s hard to concentrate fully on any one ball in the air when you’re juggling several. When your attentions dances from one thing to another, nothing gets your full attention. Work can actually suffer instead of being more productive.
* Juggling many tasks can wear you out. Some days when I have a lot going on at once I feel much more weary by the evening.
* Studies show that all the things we juggle throughout the day puts us on overload, which our brains aren’t wired for. Computers crash when they get on overload. It can happen to us too.
* Trying to process many more things takes its toll on memory. People are becoming more forgetful in an effort to pack more in. That becomes counterproductive.
* Multitasking feeds an inability to say no to requests for you to do something. You might see it as another ball you’ll have to juggles instead of something you don’t have time for.
* Communicating electronically depersonalizes both business and personal relationships. It can also create more misunderstandings that take more time to clarify. Joking and expressions can come across wrong in an email or text message. I used to love to talk to friends on the phone. Now I mainly email to save time. Yet it’s not the same!
I’ve experienced all of this but am trying to have some semblance of keeping my life simple. Awareness is the first step. Pay attention to how many different things you juggle in a day. Like someone on a diet who writes down everything she or he eats, list everything you do. Become more conscious of everything and prioritize what’s more important. On Monday I’ll post some suggestions for finding a healthy version of multitasking, which I’ve been trying since my consciousness was raised.
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