Why Stop Multi-Tasking?

Jul 6, 2024 | Blog, Mindfulness, Small Acts

Turtle facing camera with bubble on noseWhy stop multitasking?
It can feel so productive, but is it?

“Interestingly, because multitasking is so stressful, single-tasking to meet a tight deadline will actually reduce your stress. In other words, giving yourself less time to do things could make you more productive and relaxed.” – Peter Bregman

In the early 1990s, my first Buddhist teacher told us we may think we are doing more than one thing at the same time, but it is just an illusion. Our minds move very quickly, and rather than focusing on multiple things at once, we are switching rapidly between one thing and another.

By the 2000s, advances in neuroscience and brain imaging technology allowed neuroscientists to study the brain’s response to multitasking directly. Research using functional MRI (fMRI) and other techniques provided concrete evidence of the brain’s limitations in handling multiple tasks and the associated stress on our nervous systems.

Curious to know more about if and why to stop multitasking, I recently read an article by Peter Bregman, “How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking” from the Harvard Business Review, where he discusses the negative impacts of multitasking and offers strategies to improve productivity and focus.

Although there are many valuable points made, three points stand out for me from Peter’s article, highlighting crucial aspects of how focusing on one task at a time can enhance productivity and well-being:

  • Shorter Deadlines Increase Focus and Productivity
    Imposing shorter deadlines can create a sense of urgency, which helps eliminate distractions and enhances concentration. By working against a tighter timeline, you can often accomplish more in less time.
  • Embrace a Steady Pace for Better Performance and Self-Satisfaction
    Slowing down and adopting a consistent, deliberate pace, like that of a turtle, can lead to more thorough and thoughtful work. This approach not only reduces stress but also results in a greater sense of accomplishment and well-being.
  • Multitasking Causes Us to Miss Nuances
    When multitasking, we often overlook subtle details and miss the depth of information in our tasks. By focusing on one task at a time, we can fully engage with it, leading to a better understanding and higher-quality outcomes.

These points emphasize the importance of deliberate focus and the benefits of a mindful approach to work and life.

My Experience

I have seen this in my own experience. Shorter deadlines make me more focused and productive; I am less likely to answer a call or allow distractions in my environment to pull me away.

When I slow down and embrace my inner turtle, I find I perform better and feel more satisfied with my work. Plus, I stay calm and feel great about the results when I finish.

I’ve also noticed that when I multitask, I do miss important nuances, subtle details, emotional cues, or creative insights. By focusing on one task at a time, I can better notice and appreciate these nuances, leading to more thorough, accurate, and thoughtful work.

Strategies that have Helped Me

The strategies that have helped me the most to implement these principles are:

  • Self-awareness
  • A willingness to create new habits
  • The discipline to take action

By being aware of my tendencies and the impact of multitasking, I can make conscious choices to focus on one task at a time. Creating new habits, such as setting shorter deadlines and embracing a steady pace, has been crucial. And, most importantly, having the discipline to consistently take action and stick to these practices has made a significant difference in my productivity and well-being.

Check out this short reflection on Mindfulness & the Practice of Staying in the Moment

And check out Peter Bregman’s article, “How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking”
From the Harvard Business Review

What have been your experiences with multitasking vs monotasking? 

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