Throughout college, multitasking was the soft skill every student, professor, and mentor would demand I have displayed on my resume like a shiny badge. At the time it was seen as this desirable trait that exemplified the best 21st-century workers from a sea of other applicants (this may or may not be an overstatement). But what once was seen as an effective exercise to utilize day-to-day has the exact opposite effect in the workplace now.
“Social media is changing how we interact” – the phrase is overused but is in no way farfetched.
Today, we have greater access to information than we ever had before. We see more, know more about the world, and are more connected than any other generation. We largely, in part, have the betterment of technology to thank for this. With the continual advancement of social platforms, the rise of content switching, (bouncing from app to app or screen to screen), has snowballed. To most of us, it’s subconscious and goes completely overlooked as we sit on the couch – television on, laptop in lap, phone in hand. But why are we doing this? Just because we can… does it necessarily mean we should?
We see this same effect happening in offices. Outside the workspace we call it “content switching,” whereas here we consider the same activity “multitasking.” To multitask means to deal with more than one task at a time, simultaneously. On average, we spend just over a minute on a task before interrupting it with something else. “Multitasking” in this way is actually a distraction disguising itself as work—and is the biggest disrupter of productivity to date. It’s an invisible problem that many of us don’t even notice.
I myself am a huge offender of this and have been guilty of checking emails, switching between projects, even checking my social accounts before diving back into a subject. (In my defense monitoring digital media is in my job description.)
We are now seeing this demand for instantaneous engagement catapulting. As a consumer, I want brands to engage with me – and as a brand, I don’t want to keep my customers waiting. If it happens to be a negative remark, well, it’s almost worse to not answer at all. Instant conversation is becoming a huge part of our culture. We are now seeing it branch out into how we function day to day.
This cultural shift makes it seem like we are giving ourselves room to breathe between jobs by jumping back and forth, but it actually interrupts the train of thought. Let’s call it mind saturation. It takes time to truly get immersed in a subject. Whether there’s a connection between the two activities or not, the mind considers it a huge sidetrack that can potentially add minutes, hours, even days to your workflow.
Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to the act of multitasking. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean life stops, so it has the potential to actually help you deal with interruptions. After all, the biggest case for multitasking is getting twice as much done in one sitting, so maybe it’s more about finding that balance. It’s just semantics, right? An illusion to make sense of everything we have to do. Everyone wants to be perceived as a good multitasker, but are any of us really experts?
My question is, how can you program yourself to un-multitask while being involved in an industry that is built around the daily investing and dividing of your time into multiple projects? Does thinking like a designer mean being scattered both mentally and physically? And if anyone should be an expert in the art of multitasking shouldn’t it be adland?
From what I gathered, the definition we’ve come to give multitasking is flawed. It’s not the act of doing two, three, four things at once – it’s the feeding of our need for an interruption. We crave the engagement.
So is multitasking a myth? Can it even be done? Is it worth a whole blog post to discuss? What do you do when “high efficiency” isn’t so efficient anymore? There’s obviously a much deeper reason why we reach for our phone for comfort, whether it’s FOMO or the false idea that we need something to fiddle with.
So will monotasking become the new multitasking? My guess is no – but it doesn’t mean we can’t adapt and better our production rate in this new age. Read below on a few how-to steps to consider on the job.
SHORT BURSTS OF PRODUCTIVITY
Work in 60 (or so) minute chunks and take frequent breaks – not social media breaks, real breaks. Breaks from the desk. Breaks from your co-workers. Breaks for you and only you. It’s tempting to perform marathon sessions of work (jk), but in the end, the results just aren’t there. Short bursts with no distractions are the way to go.
MANAGING THE WORKFLOW
Understanding your workflow-flow is nonnegotiable for productivity. Know when you can take on more and when you can’t. Burnout is real. Managers especially need to consider this for the team. Whether it’s an urgent or not-so-urgent job, adding it to someone’s schedule can make it difficult to complete regular tasks on time. So be mindful of approaching deadlines and push back low-priority concerns for when things are slow.
DON’T FORGET TO CLUTTERTASK
Cluttertasking is a handy technique to train yourself to only do things during a certain period of the day – like only checking your Instagram over meals or looking through emails first thing in the morning and right before you leave the office. Ultimately, this helps you eliminate distractions by scheduling a time for it in your calendar.
COMMIT TO CHOICES
Short and sweet, when you choose to focus on an assignment for the day – commit to it! Discipline your brain to stand firm with your decisions and goals for that week.
All in all, you don’t have to save the whole world in a day. If you’re a serial multitasker – just stop. Your mind will likely thank you.