Why Multitasking is a Remote Worker’s Silent Killer

Multitasking when working remotely

Multitasking when working remotely is a good idea, we think. We get so much work done only to have it all messed up in the end. While we work from home, we are surrounded by partners, pets, children and then we have chores like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping. We have to do it all. We have an incessant desire to impress our bosses at work too. So, we race against time to finish more than we can practically accomplish. We’re the Jim Carey from ‘Yes Man,’ and before we know it, we promise too much only to underdeliver in the end.

We get burnt out, feel directionless, and our minds and bodies start giving up on us. Is success not our cup of tea? What about those masterminds who achieve it all? Are we doomed to fail because we don’t have the godly talent to multitask? 

Let’s not be delusional. Multitasking reduces productivity, and subsequently, our chances of succeeding  at anything. It’s better to be the best at one thing than being mediocre at ten things. To put it in one sentence, let’s avoid being the Jack of all trades and master of none.

Let’s see what really happens when we’re determined to multitask while working remotely.

What is The Cost of Multitasking?

Loss of concentration is the cost of multitasking. Imagine thinking about the dishes while working on a work project. You’ll hurry up on the work to accommodate the dishes. While doing the dishes, you’re thinking about picking up the kids from school. You’ll hurry up on the dishes to reach the school in time. This is a vicious cycle. You’re not concentrating on what you’re doing.

Congratulations! You probably did it all in a day and you’re proud of yourself. Now repeat this tomorrow and for the rest of the week. You succeeded at squeezing everything in 24 hours every day. You failed at doing even one thing properly. The project work is a halfhearted effort, the dishes are not very clean and the kids aren’t happy about your frustrated “hurry up” face every day. You’ve burnt yourself out.

Before you think I’m an unwarranted critic, Here are some facts you should know about.

  • According to Mark, Gudith and Klocke (2008), an average person takes around 23 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted even for the shortest time. This isn’t a matter of choice because there’s science behind it. Your brain remains active even after you stop a task and it takes 30 minutes for it to process information. Jumping to another task during this time will mean no focus on the next task. 

Think twice before you grab your phone to check social media notifications on your phone. Set a different time for the dishes and have someone else pick up the kids from school. It is easy for the lines to get blurred between your personal and professional work when you’re working from home. You must ensure that your work hours are only meant for working. You don’t want to be set 23 minutes behind every time you switch tasks.

  • Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers also found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.
  • According to more than a decade-long study by Anthony Wagner, heavy media multitasking leads to loss of sustained attention and working memory. Media multitasking means switching between various tasks and applications on your computer or other devices. When you’re working remotely, it is easy to switch from your Slack channel to a live performance by your favourite band on YouTube and your friend’s new pictures on Instagram. If you really want to be productive, you need to stop all switching apps to focus on one task at a time.

How Does Multitasking Affect Brain Health?

1. Multitasking Can Cause Permanent Brain Damage

In a study by University of Sussex (UK), the MRI scans of the participants revealed that the brain density of heavy multitaskers was less in the anterior cingulate cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for our emotional control and empathy. Multitasking could permanently alter our brain structures.

2. Multitasking Reduces Attention and Focus

Every time we multitask, we train our brains to get distracted. This works just like drug addiction for our brains. Once this cycle starts, it is very tough to break it.

According to neuroscientist and New York bestselling author, Daniel Levitin, 

“Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”

3. Multitasking Can Dumb You Down

It sounds harsh, but it’s true. A study by the University of London found that the IQ points of multitaskers were down to the average level of an 8-year old.

So, if you’re thinking of multitasking when working remotely, think again. Working on a work project whilst checking your social media and doing dishes in between will lead to the quality of your work dropping to that of an 8-year-old child!

4. Multitasking is a Creativity Killer

Every kind of work needs creativity and innovation for growth. If you’re a multitasker, you could be keeping yourself from success.

According to Neuroscientist, Earl Miller, multitasking could have adverse effects on creativity,

“Innovative thinking, after all, comes from extended concentration. When you try to multitask, you typically don’t get far enough down any road to stumble upon something original because you’re constantly switching and backtracking.”

The Key to Better and Higher Productivity When Working Remotely

Multitasking is a productivity, creativity, and emotion killer. With so many studies to back up these claims, it is only wise for us not to  believe the contrary. One task at a time will boost our productivity, creativity and focus. If we do want success, it’s best to drop the “multitasker” tag and be more practical in our approach. Let’s see what we can do for better productivity and success while working remotely.

1. Communicate Clear Expectations with Those Who Live With You

While you’re working remotely, let your partner, family members, and roommates know that you’re unavailable to them during work hours unless there’s an emergency. Make them understand that you need them to respect your space during work hours. While you’re working from home, your work hours mean that you’re in the office.

It is up to you to set these expectations as for your roommates or family members, all hours at home is home time if they’re not working remotely.

2. Take Breaks, Especially From Your Devices

Some of us avoid breaks completely when we work from home, and that could lead to burnout. It is necessary to take breaks from time to time. It is just like taking breaks when you’re in a physical office.

These breaks should disconnect you from your devices. So, rather than checking out a YouTube video or your social media channels, You could go for a walk or just sip your tea or coffee while reading something offline.

3. Interact With Other People

While working remotely, you’ll miss meeting your colleagues and having human interactions. Working from home can get lonely sometimes.

This can be combated by interacting with your colleagues via video calls. During your break time, you can get on a video call with another colleague who is also taking a break. You could talk about things other than work to refresh your mind.

Remember, breaks and distractions aren’t the same so don’t get on a guilt trip for taking a 15-minute break from time to time. The key is to not switch between apps and to get off devices for these breaks.

Remember: Less is More

While multitasking has notoriously crept into our lives as the must-have trait to success, it practically does quite the opposite. Remote work has gifted us the ability to work from home and it doesn’t mean that you merge your personal and professional life together. Focusing on one task at a time compounds to a better quality of work over time.

If you need a little nudge to remember that multitasking is no good for you, bookmark this page so that you can return to it and reinstall your faith in “less is more”.


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