The downside of multitasking

Multitasking seems to have become a necessity. We all have so much to do so, Hey! Why not do two (or more) things at once?

There was a time, a couple of years ago when multitasking was all the rage at work; it was implied that he or she who could do it was clearly superior to colleagues who couldn’t.

At one level doing several things at once is harmless and women in particular were seen as good at it. How could you run a home/look after the kids/etc if you had to do everything in sequence?

But the love affair is over, I hope. Multitasking is OK, in its place, and its place should be limited to the odd burst of… multitasking.

Too much of it and you begin to lose both the ability, and the will, to concentrate for long enough to do anything that requires real focus. You may think it doesn’t matter “Who needs to focus?” you may ask.

Well, apart from the satisfaction of completing a single task, doing it well and getting pleasure from the product of your labours, concentration is also likely to produce a state of flow, which means “a state of complete immersion in an activity”, according to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who coined the term.

As well as making the things you concentrate on more enjoyable, flow brings other benefits:

  • It helps with performance in all sorts of areas such as: learning, sport, teaching and creativity.
  • It improves competence and skills development
  • It tends to make you seek new challenges in order to promote more of the flow experience
  • It means greater enjoyment in hobbies and leisure pursuits
  • Flow is linked to personal fulfilment and satisfaction.

Multitask by all means, if you have to, but don’t kill off your ability to concentrate and spoil the flow.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.


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