In our quest towards mindful living, is multitasking as valuable as we once thought?

Growing up, I thought that multitasking was a superpower that women possessed. With all the balls we constantly have to juggle, it almost appeared to be the only logical approach to get things done. However, with burnout on increase and our quest towards mindful living, multitasking really does appear to have a lot more disadvantages than we once thought.

Many of my patients/clients are professional women who are presenting with high stress levels, professional burnout and are reporting decreased attention and memory. The mere thought of not multitasking appears so impossible to many, as we have almost been coached into thinking of it as a strength. One may even become anxious, feeling that there is no other way to accomplish one’s tasks.

Perhaps in order to consider a different way of doing things, one needs to weigh in on the ill effects of multitasking. The most common downside I’ve been noticing is increased burnout. Juggling various tasks and worrying about doing it all perfectly can lead to both physical and mental exhaustion. Living in an age of smartphones, consider for a moment, having several apps open all at once and switching between them as you go along. Not only does it drain your battery faster, but at some point your phone may even freeze. Multitasking may have a similar effect. However, while we are still able to use our phones while on charge (not advisable, but possible), it’s not the same with the human body.

Other than stress and exhaustion, think about the amount of time we may ironically be wasting, while switching tasks, orienting from one task to the next and back, trying to recall where you left off, etc. So multitasking may at times take up more time, even though the aim is to save time.

The quality of work becomes questionable. We may start out well, but when deadlines loom and we need to round up, we run the risk of poor outcomes as we rush to get tasks complete on time.

I’ve come across an increasing number of women complaining of declining memory and focus; and after holistic medical testing, we’ve realised it was due to the stress of heavy workloads and multitasking. When we are engaged in too many activities at once, it becomes more difficult to focus on any particular thing. In order to retain information, we need to pay enough attention so that information is received clearly and stored in our brains. But when the brain is overloaded with various activities, we are unable to adequately store information, thus reducing our capacity to recall when necessary. The consequences can be far-reaching when relevant information cannot be recalled in meetings, for example, making one look incompetent.

So, what’s the alternative?

  1. Prioritize tasks. You will feel a sense of accomplishment as you tick each one off the list.
  2. Decide on dedicated times to check and reply to emails and have your inbox closed at all other times.
  3. When working on very important tasks, try to avoid calls or messages.
  4. If your workload appears to be unrealistic, delegate or discuss strategies to divide tasks more fairly.
  5. Acknowledge when you need help and ask for it — at work and at home.

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