The idea that more tasks completed equals more productivity is deeply ingrained in many cultures, especially in work environments. And yet this is to ignore the quality of the work done, the emotional and cognitive toll it can take, and whether “getting things done” is the ultimate goal of work and life. Most importantly, it sidesteps the discussion around what exactly all this activity accomplishes.
What Does the Science Say?
Studies would seem to seriously question the rationale for multitasking. Multiple studies have shown higher stress, anxiety and fatigue for multitaskers. Even worse than this, other studies have found it reduces IQ levels and equally concerningly leads to impairment in the brain region responsible primarily for empathy. As Deepak Chopra noted:
“Multitasking divides your attention and leads to confusion and weakened focus.”
On average it can take over 20 mins to recover the deep focus you had before the interruption. It may not matter for some tasks, but it does for others so something to be mindful of.
So, Why Are We So Keen On Multitasking? What Does It Offer Us?
In the moment, that sense of busyness can feel good. The constant doing can therefore create a sense of accomplishment, not to mention of importance because of having so many calls on our time.
Imagine having a long to do list. I have certainly found it satisfying progressively crossing things off. Compare that with just having one thing on that list. Is that all I have to do today? Don’t I want to accomplish more?
The higher frequently tasks offer more opportunity for that buzz, and yet this completely ignores the importance or impact of the tasks. One high value piece of work might outshine hundreds of low value tasks. And this goes to the heart of the bigger discussion around productivity.
In short, what are we ultimately hoping to accomplish or prove?
Questions in the Image:
- Why do I multitask?
- What does multitasking offer me?
- How does multitasking make me feel?
Want to Read More Around This Topic?
The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress – Mark, Gudith and Klocke (2008). The study found that interruptions led to higher stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort to return to the original task.
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – confusion is even a question. It is saying you don’t seem to know where you are going. What then is important now? How can you tell?
What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.