The doom of multitasking: don’t force your employees into it

Did you know that you’re multitasking at least several times a day? That’s right! It’s enough if you cook, listen to music, and check your Facebook at the same time. Fortunately, it’s not fatal.

“If you run after two hares, you will catch neither” (a proverb)

We all do it in order to make our daily duties or house chores more enjoyable; however, as far as multitasking at work is concerned, that’s another pair of shoes.

Many managers, as well as employers, believe that there’s nothing wrong with doing two or more things at the same time. With the amount of work and pressing deadlines, there’s no time to waste. Thus, multitasking is a must. After all, when employees switch between two or more tasks, more work gets done faster.

Does it, really?

 

The myth of multitasking: debunked

Did you know that only 2% of people can multitask successfully? For the rest of the population, i.e. 98% of people, switching between two or more tasks does more harm than good.

Let’s consider marathon runners for a moment. Have you ever wondered why they prefer training either early in the morning or late in the evening? It’s not a personal preference. There’s a reason for it: human body cannot digest running. Thus, if you go on a run in the afternoon, right after dinner, you’ll experience abdominal pain known as colic or stitch, which will hinder your running.

As you can see, human body doesn’t tolerate multitasking. It can’t digest and run at the same time. It’s natural for our bodies to single task.

I know what you want to say now. Although running and digesting is impossible to do at the same time, working on a project and answering emails is. Moreover, it’s not painful. Why, then, shouldn’t you force your employees into it?

Well, maybe multitasking at work is possible, but just like digesting running, it carries consequences. They aren’t painful. Nevertheless, they’re serious.

 

Multitasking at work: the consequences

Although most employees get used to multitasking and can perform well switching back and forth between two or more tasks, they won’t excel at work. Task-switching (i.e. multitasking) will keep them from spreading their wings and flying.

Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t force your employees into multitasking:

1. Being “in the Zone” never happens.

Many artists, creatives, scientists, and athletes say that being in the Zone is a magical time. You forget about the world around, all sounds disappear, and the time collapses. Suddenly, you figure out it’s evening. It feels as if you worked only an hour when, in fact, 10 hours passed.

When you’re in the Zone (or Flow), you’re fully involved as well as immersed in performing an activity. You’re focused, happy and highly productive. It’s effortless.

Now, it’s important that your employees experience being in the Zone as often as possible. This way, they will perform excellent, be happy and satisfied about what they do and enjoy their work time. Thus, they’ll be less likely to quit their job, put away their work or suffer from work depression.

Unfortunately, you cannot be in the Zone while multitasking. In order to experience the Flow, you need to get rid of all distractions and focus on a single task. Only then can you be highly productive and creative.

2. You make more mistakes.

Did you know that multitasking splits the brain? When you try to do two things at the same time, your brain divides. Thus, it dedicates one-half of grey matter to each task. However, if you try to add a third complex task, the human brain can’t handle it.

“In terms of everyday behavior, you can cook and talk on the phone at the same time. The problem arises when you pursue three goals at the same time. Your prefrontal cortex will always discard one,” says neuroscientist Etienne Koechlin.

Moreover, according to research, when your brain splits in half, it causes you to forget details. You also make up to three times more mistakes than when dealing with one or two tasks at a time.

Now, consider such a situation: you’re at home cooking soup, checking Facebook and talking on the phone at the same time. Suddenly, you make a mistake and add the wrong ingredient to your soup. It’s unpleasant, but it’s not a catastrophe, right? Fair enough.

Let’s now consider multitasking at work. Imagine your employee making a grammar error in an important document or making an error while counting. First mistake would only be embarrassing for your company. The second, on the other hand, can be fatal and result in a huge money loss.

3. You feel stressed out all the time.

Stress is the enemy of productivity. It:

  • Sucks all the energy out of you,
  • Decreases your focus,
  • Causes health problems,
  • Makes you forget things,
  • Increases your anxiety level.

Because of stress, you can’t think straight, concentrate, relax and get the work done. Every minute seems like an hour and all you want to do is to disappear. Working place changes into a nightmare and instead of enjoying your work time, you’re surviving it. As a result, you’re depressed and unproductive.

Now, research confirms that multitasking at work can raise your stress level. After all, when the demands are greater than your capabilities, stress is going to follow.

Task-switching can be especially stressful, when given tasks are complex and of high priority as well as importance (like those often on the job). When you’re obliged to deal with them, your body starts producing adrenaline and other stress hormones. Thus, making it harder for you to cope.

4. Creativity gets decreased.

Every manager and employer desires their best employees to be creative. After all, being creative means:

  • Being able to solve problems better,
  • Coming up with innovative ideas, and
  • Being more success driven, no matter how many failures you face.

Thus, creativity is important in the workplace.

Unfortunately, even if your employees are creative, they won’t be able to reach their full potential when you force them into multitasking.

Creativity requires stress-free environment and no time pressure. When you’re juggling between two or more tasks, you focus on finishing them as quickly as possible. Here, the emphasis is put on speed, not creativity.

5. You find it hard to learn new things.

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once. But there is not enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” - Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

The more your employees multitask, the fewer tasks they can finish and the more difficult it is for them to focus and learn.

According to research, multitasking increases study time, hinders memorization and makes you miss vital details and other critical information. Thus, multitasking will make it harder for your employees to improve their skills as well as knowledge. As a result, they won’t climb the career ladder or make progress.

As you can see, multitasking isn’t as good for your employees as you thought. It does more harm than good. Also, it doesn’t speed up the work. In fact, it slows it down. Thus, multitasking will not improve your employees’ performance. It’ll decrease it.

Let’s figure out what you can do to help your employees excel at work.

 

Employee efficiency and how to increase it

Here are a few simple ways to improve the performance of your employees:

  • Be a good role model: keep your desk clean, don’t be late for work and don’t multitask. Your employees are like children. They observe you, so set a good example.
  • Give your employee one complex task at a time: this way, their focus won’t be divided. As a result, your employee will receive productivity boost. Also, their creativity will increase.
  • Give your employees more freedom: allow your employees to plan their days. Offer them flexible schedules. This way they’ll be able to finish their work when it’s most comfortable for them. It’ll make them less stressed out.

 

Final thoughts

Multitasking doesn’t help your employees to perform better. Don’t force them into performing two or more tasks at the same time. Instead, encourage monotasking. It’ll increase your employees’ productivity, decrease the number of errors they make, make them feel less stressed out, boost their creativity, and help them learn new things.

Need more reasons to ban multitasking in your workplace?

 

By Karen Bridges

About the author

Karen is a blogger, copywriter and translator. The professional ups and downs she’s experienced now help her navigate in the ocean of management innovations. When she’s not working, Karen loves researching etymology and the history of fashion. You can read her latest works at Omnipapers.com.

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