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Note from Lisa: Are you a multitasker like me? I always have so many tabs open on my computer, and am trying to get several things done at once for my business. But, research shows that multitasking is bad for your productivity.
Thankfully, there’s a simple solution to help you get more done. And in this guest post, Penny is going to show you what it is. You better believe I’ll be putting some of this into practice ASAP.
Take it away Penny…
You can get more accomplished by doing less.
Does this sound too good to be true?
The good news is that it really is true. And it’s a skill we can learn that will benefit every area of our life: ourselves, our family, and our business.
How we approach tasks is key. When it comes to unitasking (focusing on one task at a time) and multitasking (dividing our focus between two or more tasks at the same time), it may surprise you which method has proven to be the most effective.
Is Multitasking Always the Answer?
If you’re a mom, you’re a multitasker. And if you’re growing a business, you’re a multitasker. Both motherhood and business would be impossible journeys to navigate solely one task at a time. For some this comes naturally, and others have to learn, quickly.
Most of us have been taught, whether we realized it or not, that multitasking is where it’s at. It’s the key to success in parenting, business and life. If we could only learn to do more in less time by doing more at the same time, we’d be way ahead.
Well, for a while that was the idea. But it turned out to be more than a little flawed.
Now the benefits of unitasking are being rediscovered.
And we can take advantage of what’s been learned about these two approaches over the past few decades. If we apply these lessons to our own lives, I believe we can have the best of both worlds.
How Multitasking Became a Thing
‘Unitasking’ and ‘multitasking’ are both modern terms and ideas.
Multitasking came first, during the computer evolution of the 1960s. It’s ironic, because even computers don’t truly multitask. They do one thing at a time so quickly that it appears as if they’re doing multiple things at once.
The idea stuck, and it didn’t take long before it was applied to people. So for decades, “multitasking” was considered the route to higher personal productivity, better job performance, and overall success. It’s ingrained in our fast-paced, results-oriented culture.
But the human brain has limits. Limits to how much information we can store in our memory and how fast our brain can switch between tasks. When we try to go beyond those limits, our results decline and we pay a price in other ways as well.
You’re not a computer. You’re so much more. Let’s learn to work with our brains, not against them, and reap the rewards.
You May Be Multitasking and Not Even Know It
There are a few different forms that multitasking can take. It’s not just about trying to juggle ten things at once. You may still be multitasking and not know it.
All of these are forms of multitasking:
- Trying to do two or more different tasks at the same time
- Doing different tasks in rapid succession
- Switching between different tasks often
In the right circumstances, any of these could be necessary and even beneficial. But in the wrong circumstances, any of them could be counterproductive and even disastrous.
So Is Multitasking Bad?
Both science and experience have shown that human multitasking beyond what our brains are designed for has a cost in productivity, accuracy, safety, health, memory, learning, and even relationships.
I think this quote from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, really captures it in a nutshell.
“Yes, we are capable of doing two things at the same time. It is possible, for example, to watch TV while cooking dinner or to answer an email while talking on the phone. What is impossible, however, is concentrating on two tasks at once.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
Let’s look at what the research shows for why multitasking is bad.
Some of these effects are the result of chronic multitasking, but some are apparent at any level of multitasking.
It actually takes us longer to complete any given task. It takes time and energy for our brain to ‘change gears’ between tasks, which is then time not spent being productive.
As our focus becomes divided, we become less accurate and more accident-prone.
Both our short- and long-term memory can suffer.
We can put ourselves in dangerous situations when we overestimate our ability to concentrate on multiple things at once.
The stress of multitasking can negatively affect our mental, physical, and emotional health.
When people become just one of the many things we’re juggling at any moment, relationships suffer, whether with spouses, children, co-workers, friends, or employees.
Some Benefits of Unitasking
The term ‘unitasking’ (or single-tasking) came into being as a response once the limitations of multitasking were becoming obvious.
In comparison, unitasking tends to lead to:
- Higher Productivity
- Higher Quality Work
- Lower Stress
- More Creativity
- Reduced Mental Overload
- Improved Focus
What do we do with this information? Swear off multitasking altogether?
No. Multitasking has its place.
After all, moms have been doing it way before it was even a word. And in today’s world it can’t be avoided.
But let’s be aware of the downsides so we can minimize them. And let’s take advantage of the very real upsides of unitasking.
How to Reap the Benefits of Unitasking
Being intentional about unitasking is the quickest way to see results.
Consider applying it to high-value, high-risk, and high-reward situations first, such as:
- People (high-value): spouse, kids, friends, employees
- Safety & Health (high-risk): driving, eating, relaxation or down time
- Goals (high-reward): planning, a task you’ve been avoiding, tasks that are important but not urgent
It’s not difficult to do, but unitasking may not feel natural at first, especially if you’re a die-hard multitasker. Give it a good try and trust the process. The results will speak for themselves.
Here are some tips for unitasking success:
- Concentrate on one task only. Try not to let your mind wander to other things.
- Reduce and eliminate as many distractions as possible, including phone, email, even clutter.
- Schedule time every day to do some focused unitasking.
- Split larger tasks into smaller parts, then unitask each part.
- Do unitasking in manageable time chunks, even as little as 15 minutes.
- Limit the number of times you need to transition between tasks.
- Pay attention, even challenge yourself, to catch yourself mindlessly multitasking. Then find a way to shift what you’re doing toward a more unitasking approach.
Follow these simple suggestions and you can painlessly turn unitasking into a habit.
You’ll feel better, make progress on what’s important, and enjoy a new outlook.
Note from Lisa: Thanks Penny, I definitely can see why for focused work, multitasking is bad for productivity.
If you’re looking for more tips on increasing your productivity, check out these related posts:
Penny has been designing and building websites for over 15 years. After working in the corporate world, she found her happy place as a self-employed webpreneur. Add homeschooling to that, and she's all about finding ways to simplify whenever possible. At Pretty Simple Mom she inspires other moms with easy ideas to make life better for themselves and their families.