If you have been studying productivity for any period of time, you have learned that multitasking is not a way to go if you want to get things done.
When you think of it, the reasons are quite natural:
- Trying to get done as many tasks as possible gets you into overwhelm and stress
- You are not giving enough attention to all of your tasks – the quality will suffer
- You are finishing your multiple tasks (or projects) slower, because you are switching between tasks (or projects)
That being said, you may realize that multitasking is not a good productivity strategy – there is always a cost involved.
Four levels of multitasking
I have realized that multitasking is not just one single “thing”. Instead, there are multiple levels of multitasking and depending of the level the consequences are anything from dangerous to less dramatic.
The levels as I have experienced myself are:
- Never do it
- Not recommended
“Please note! These levels are not based on any scientific research – they are just my observations
Never do it
In this level you should never multitask. If you do, you might endanger your own or your fellow human lives.
For example, one very common habit is to drive a car and talk to a cell phone. I avoid doing this although I have to say that I have done it myself couple of times in the past.
I have realized that I’m unable to focus on two things at once when I’m driving. And when I’m not able focus on my driving, I endanger others in the traffic. Instead, if I have to talk on the phone, I rather pull over, have my phone call and the move on.
The same goes by working with heavy machinery. Not completely focusing on your work because you are doing something else at the same time will put everyone else in danger not to mention yourself.
The second level of multitasking makes it a bit more acceptable, since you are not endangering others.
However, even if you are not putting others in danger, you are still doing harm to yourself in other ways.
Mainly, the problem with this kind of multitasking is that you are not present at the current situation – thus you are not getting the most out of it.
For instance, talking on the phone while surfing the web may not be dangerous, but you are not giving your full attention to the other person you are talking to. That other person may feel that what he/she has to say is not important because of this.
Another example can be taken from an online world. Working on multiple projects at once is a sure way to overwhelm yourself. Even if you are not putting others to danger, you are dramatically increasing your chances to feel stressed out and not finishing something you started, because there is too much stuff going on at the same time.
The third level of multitasking is level OK. In this level, you may be multitasking but you feel quite happy doing so.
For example, grabbing up a newspaper and drinking coffee at the same time is not harmful at all.
I find this way of multitasking very relaxing – especially during the weekends when I don’t have to hurry. In fact, I feel that something is missing when I’m not having my cup of coffee to drink while reading the newspaper.
The fourth level of multitasking is mindful multitasking and I wanted to devote separate chapter to it.
Although this type of multitasking belongs to a group “OK”, it is still a bit different, because you do it to accomplish something else.
What is mindful multitasking?
I have realized that in certain scenarios, multitasking helps me to finish my tasks the easier way than without doing it. In fact, there is term for this type of multitasking called mindful multitasking.
This term was introduced by Lucy Jo Palladino in her great book “Find Your Focus Zone”.
In this book, she mentions mindful multitasking as a way to improve your alertness and by this way to make a tedious task easier for yourself.
For example, if I’m doing a boring data entry job, I might listen to some music to make me feel good. Or, if I have a task at my day job which I don’t like doing, I might cheer myself a bit by visiting my favorite blogs for a short moment and then come back to the original task.
Does this strategy work? Yes it does! In the ideal situation you would want to push through that tedious task without any distractions and with full focus, but sometimes I have realized that doing the mindful multitasking instead helps me to accomplish a task – thus making it easier for myself.
There is still one nuance when it comes to mindful multitasking: the word mindful itself. As Lucy states in her book, “you recognize and accept that you lose efficiency to gain alertness, but you choose it anyway because in the long run the added alertness allows you to more done.”
I find that in this context there is a place to multitask. Maybe I should get rid of those boring tasks somehow in the first place, but currently this is the way I handle those – whenever I encounter them.
So, are you saying that multitasking is OK?
You may be thinking that I’m nuts when I’m advocating multitasking. However, I’m just saying that in certain specific situations multitasking may work for you.
I mentioned in the beginning that there is a cost involved when you multitask. It might be the lives of others or yours or then the cost is something less dramatic.
However, I understand that in certain scenarios multitasking has its place. Even in those situations you acknowledge there is a cost involved (for example in mindful multitasking, it is efficiency) when you decide to do it.
I have discovered that multitasking has several levels in it – on some level it is dangerous to multitask whereas in some levels it might be less dramatic.
Although I agree that multitasking is a bad way to increase your productivity, there might be very specific situations where I have noticed that it works.
Still, you should be aware of the cost of multitasking – even when you are doing mindful multitasking.
It’s your turn now!
- What are your thoughts on mindful multitasking?
- In what scenarios (if in any) do you multitask?
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