Updated: Dec 1, 2022
At the beginning of my career, mentioning multitasking as a strength would win you serious brownie points at job interviews.
Fast forward a few years and advanced multitasking skills are viewed if not as something you should almost be ashamed of.
Multitasking is considered a negative quality. But is it so? Let's find out.
Multitasking might decrease our productivity by up to 40%. - Forbes
The status of multitasking changed thanks to modern science, psychology and neuroscience in particular. The researchers have learnt to measure various things. And when they looked at multitasking it turned out to be bad for us. As simple as that.
"We found that multitasking behaviour is negatively associated with flow experience which transmits a negative indirect effect of multitasking behaviour on performance." - Corinna Peifer
But is multitasking that evil?
Well, yes and no.
Multitasking in its purest form when you jump from project to project is not good for our overall performance. It increases stress and decreases general wellbeing.
Multitasking can also create a feeling of an overwhelm and lead to a burnout. In its purest form, multitasking weakens our attention span and our ability to complete tasks.
It's very distracting if you move from task to task. It also slows you down as instead of concentrating and completing one task, your brain stops & starts to recalibrate itself for a new one.
However, some dose of healthy multitasking can have a positive effect arouses the nervous system. This is according to research by Corinna Peifer, quoted above.
There is another benefit of multitasking. It's an opportunity to get unstuck.
When we spend too much on one project and the inspiration fairies appear to have left, we could jump on something else not to spend our brain power battling with this one project that is not going swimmingly well.
But he calls this ability to switch tasks - slow-motion multitasking.
Slow-motion multitasking as opposed to multitasking implies conscious and deliberate switch between tasks and projects.
Remember The Big Bang Theory and the Einstein Approximation episode where Sheldon got stuck with being unable to solve his scientific problem? He joined the workforce as a busboy at the Cheesecake Factory.
By switching from constantly thinking about the problem he cannot find a solution to, he quickly realises where he was going wrong after resorting to manual labour instead. Doing something else, or multitasking, has helped him to see the error of his ways.
So what is slow-motion multitasking all about?
It's about having several projects on the go. You are not trying to do them all at once. No. Instead, you transition from one project to another.
When you get stuck, bored, or uninspired by one, rather than dropping it altogether, you leave it to percolate and do something else completely.
The trick is that you enjoy both projects. Neither is your lifetime work. Both are contributing to fulfilling one simple goal: providing you with a joyous experience.
So next time you are feeling stuck and uninspired, start working on that other project that's been pulling at you. And who knows, you might even have a breakthrough with your original project.
3 Key benefits of slow-motion multitasking.
1. Slow-motion multitasking allows you to learn something new
By applying slow-motion multitasking, you actually learn something new, something different to your day to day. If you are a scientist, you might want to consider taking up foreign languages as your other project.
2. It helps you to get unstuck
Sometimes all we need is not to continuously think about the problem at hand. If we have another exciting project we could concentrate on, the time we are not spending on the first project will not seem like a waste of time.
If we agree to give every project an equal priority in the grand scheme, we should be able to work on several projects in parallel, without overwhelming ourselves.
3. It promotes contributing to varied projects
How often do you dream of doing something totally different from your day to day? I sometimes do that. I go as far as dreaming of qualifying as a medical doctor. But with my degree in psychology, I would need to start from scratch. Adding my age to the equation, we quickly come to a disappointing result - it's probably too late to switch careers in such a drastic manner.
However, where is a guarantee that I will enjoy being a full-time medic? Maybe it's just about helping people within a medical institution. The answer might be more simple than 7 years at med school. I might consider volunteering as a hospital admin or social care worker. This does not require years of training. It should help me satisfy this desire to do something different and childhood dream of being a doctor.
So, as you can see, multitasking is not all that evil. Not unless we do it in a more conscious manner.
Instead of jumping from task to task, project to project, we should have several projects that we could be working on in parallel. Those projects should not demand equal attention all at the same time. But instead, they should benefit from each other by helping the other project to gain new fire and inspiration while working on something else entirely.
Are you convinced there is a time and place for slow-motion multitasking?