Multitasking: The Illusion of Effectiveness at the Cost of Productivity
I found research articles as early as 1995, where psychologists studied multitasking. Multitasking happens when someone tries to perform two tasks simultaneously, switch from one task to another, or perform two or more tasks in rapid succession. Psychologists have their ways of measuring this. But suffice it to say that they have discovered that there are basically two functions of the brain that allow for switching between tasks. One such stage is “goal shifting” (“do this now instead of that”). The other stage is “rule activation” (This is where minds switch gears as to the “rules” needed to complete a task). These stages take time to happen and increase the mental load we carry, resulting eventually in up to 40% productivity loss (and increased feelings of being overwhelmed).
Sometimes, the simplest solution is exactly what comes to mind first. If multitasking results in productivity loss, and eek! – feelings of being overwhelmed, then maybe you shouldn’t multitask. And I think that is the best solution. Just don’t do it. Of course, there will be interruptions to your day, new things that need to be done. And you should definitely stop and write these things down so you don’t forget. However, keep to the task at hand as much as possible, until you have finished.
Sometime ago (early June 2017), someone popularized the term mental load in terms of household duties. The mental load is carried by the party that does the project management of household duties. I won’t delve too deeply into that, because it would be a huge tangent to my mini series. However, I will say that when you’re doing all the planning in your head, you carry a mental load regarding your time management. There’s a whole industry out there to reduce the mental load of “project managers”. When you architect your time management, you are the project manager. I have found that one way to reduce the mental load is to write things down for later, and to share/delegate tasks with other members of the team, if there are any.
In conclusion, studies show that multitasking is a time-sucker. That is, it is nothing but a mirage of effectiveness in the time management world. One word of caution, though, is to watch how much mental load you carry. A big mental load will increase your sense of feeling overwhelmed, but writing things down to manage later can be a mental load relief.