I was at an airport recently and I saw something that left me startled. At the boarding gate, a man was talking on the phone that was tucked between his ear and his shoulder. He was punching keys on another phone with one hand and was carrying a bag in the other hand. When he reached the security counter, he dipped one hand in his pocket and showed his boarding pass. He was still talking on the phone and holding his bag as he did all this. He got into the connecting bus, ended the call and started to grope his pockets, looking for his boarding pass. His face turned from worry to relief when he found it.
Then in a few moments, after finishing another phone call, he frantically started searching his bag for something and let out a string of curses. Between the string of profanity the words I could catch were, “I left my laptop at the screening!” Then, there was a racket as the man wanted the bus to turn around so he could get back his laptop. He left when we alighted and I was looking out for him until the doors to the aircraft closed. The man did not return.
This is a perfect example of the side effects of multitasking—errors, forgetfulness, foul moods, unpredictable breakdowns and stress [not to mention, inconvenience to others].
Myth: multitasking helps us achieve more
Multitasking is supposed to be a solution to help us meet the ever-increasing demands on our time. But there’s no greater fallacy than that. If you are the kind of person that I just described whose attention is scattered over multiple tasks, then you are headed for disaster as there’s another side to multitasking—one that quietly nibbles away your sanity, your health and your peace.
Our vision is divided into focal vision and peripheral vision. When we focus our sight on something, it gets primary attention. The objects in the background go into the peripheral vision and get secondary attention. But if we take the primary focus away as we do our work, then all tasks fall in the peripheral vision and get secondary attention. Any task that is done with secondary attention lacks passion or excellence. It is work done; not necessarily, work well done. This alone beats the purpose of multitasking.
I came across this interesting piece of research, which said that just picking up your phone for a few seconds to check an SMS while doing a task causes you to lose your original trail of attention. And it takes 11 minutes for you to regain focus. So can you imagine the kind of mediocre output a distracted mind produces?
When your attention is scattered, work is executed with so much stress that there is no sense of achievement when you finish, because the moment one task gets over, you start worrying about the next one [which is usually undone].
Dividing your attention among multiple tasks is an invitation to mistakes that could have repercussions on other people’s careers too. Trying to do multiple things at a time also affects your memory because it’s difficult to remember which task you did not pay full attention to. Forgetfulness and delays become common. You are no better than a headless chicken. This not only takes a toll on your job, but it also erodes your reputation and relationships—people can no longer trust that you will remember to do the task. Reminders replace conversations and a great relationship divide ensues. Multitasking is the perfect recipe for job dissatisfaction and emotional confusion.
Those who take pride in multitasking are usually foul in temperament. This is because their attention is still hung up on work—their minds are constantly trying to figure what is done and what is not. This prevents them from being happy and makes them impatient and aggressive.
To do any task well, you need to give it full attention. If you don’t give undivided attention to your work, you will be thrown off the track of success. The attitude of ‘doing something and doing it until it is completely done’ will take you a long way. If other tasks crop up in your way, delegate them. If you can’t delegate, schedule them for later. Doing more work won’t bring you success; excelling in what you do will. Be reasonable in your timelines. It is better to be clear about your work and the time it will take to execute than to commit to unreal demands. Your primary purpose at work and at anything else you do is to progress and to be happy. Multitasking is the enemy of both. It may get your job done, but it won’t give you satisfaction.
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