Why Multitasking is the Worst & What You Should Do Instead
“Wow – you seem to have switched some answers here. What was happening when you were working on this?”
“Oh, I was multi-tasking Ms. P. We were on the bus to the game, I was listening to music, and texting with the friend. But it’s all right here, see?”
Over the years, I have had MANY students tell me that they are masters at multitasking. Meaning that they can do multiple things at the same time, like studying, completing homework, listening to music, talking or texting with friends, and even exercising. And somehow do them all well.
Apparently, my students were amazing. Or just in denial. Because multitasking isn’t a thing. Let’s talk about why your brain can’t multitask and what you should be doing instead to get work done.
Why Multitasking is the Worst & What To Do Instead
The Myth of Multitasking
We all became convinced that we can do multiple things at the same time. “Look, ma – I can work on this essay, listen to a TED Talk, and send some emails all at the same time. Check out this productivity.”
Science says otherwise. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. When we “multitask” we’re simply switching our focus quickly from one task to another. Attempting to multitask can overwhelm your brain, which leads to burnout and frustration.
Research has also shown that not only are we getting things done more slowly, but we’re more likely to make mistakes in the process. That’s right, trying to work faster actually leads to more mistakes. Then you waste more time redoing it.
Over time we can lose the ability to focus, which can affect our ability to learn. Yikes! The last thing we want to do is lessen our ability to focus; that’s the one thing we desperately need as students.
What to do Instead of Multitasking
You have a lot to get done – I get that. Instead of constantly pulling your focus, you need to focus on one task at a time. It seems counterintuitive, but also taking a few minutes to plan your work out can save you time in the long run.
List all your required tasks for the day or week and number them by importance. What is the most immediate or the most important thing you need to complete? An Eisenhower model can be useful for this!
Batch similar tasks together. For example, you need to create flashcards for 2 different classes. Schedule those tasks together.
Create a plan
How and when will you complete each task? Look at the time you have for the day and start scheduling when you will complete each task. You don’t need to have exact times, but make a guestimate. I always recommend overestimating how much time you might need.
Once you have a plan, schedule it in a planner. Yes, write it down. If you write it down, you are more likely to actually complete it. Use this paper planner or a digital app to schedule your time.
Work on one type of task at a time. The Pomodoro Technique is perfect for this. For example, if you need to study for a test, spend 25 minutes just preparing for the test. Then move on to your French homework. Don’t forget to take short breaks in between – take a quick walk, grab a snack, and check your phone.
And by distractions, I mean your phone. Place it on DND mode while you’re working and place it in another room, if possible. Don’t forget to turn off the notifications on your computer as well.
The next time you’re tempted to sneak in some scrolling and homework, I hope you think twice. Just stay focused on the work and you can scroll when the work is done!
I know that it can be tempting to do 2 or 3 things at the same time. (I’m just as guilty of this as anyone.) But if you think you’re a master multitasker, just know that none of us are. Ditch the multitasking and work on one task at a time. You will make fewer mistakes, learn more, and still get your work done!