One of the most common questions that people are asked in a job interview involves multitasking. Businesses today want people who can do multiple tasks within a fixed time period without compromising the quality of the work. The only problem is that 98% of the general population struggles with multitasking, making this attribute a potentially harmful habit that can ruin the quality of the work being done.
Is multitasking something that should be done? Or is it something that is risky and could potentially cost someone more time than focusing on the completion of one task at a time would? Here is a look at the key multitasking pros and cons.
What Are the Pros of Multitasking?
1. Simple tasks allow for a fast switch in mental focus.
The things that people are used to doing every day as part of their routine are a positive benefit of multitasking. A parent can make lunch, talk on the phone, and eat their breakfast all at the same time. If you’re at work, you can listen to music, send out a text, and be working on an assigned project.
2. It creates resilience against distractions.
The modern world has numerous distractions. From social media updates to emergency emails to the latest YouTube video involving cats and unicorns, there’s always something trying to grab our attention. Multitasking allows people to become more resilient against distractions because the mind is already distracted with multiple responsibilities that must be completed. It can be acknowledged and then set aside for later so the mind can stay on task.
3. It provides progression on multiple duties that must be performed.
Slow and steady progress is what typically wins the race. That’s what multitasking can help someone do for multiple tasks simultaneously. When there is a specific deadline that must be met for multiple projects, multitasking can help to make it possible for everything to be turned in on time. Despite what our needs might be at times, there is still only 24 hours to any given day.
4. It creates a habit of adaptability.
Being adaptable to changing circumstances is more important than ever before. Something can change in an instant and people need to be able to think on their feet, evaluate the situation, and come up with the right solution. Multitasking naturally requires multiple thought chains to occur at the same time, allowing for habits of adaptability to be developed so quick, accurate decisions can be made.
5. It allows for sanity within a world of chaos.
There are numerous sources of information that come at people every day in a wide variety of ways. No longer is the daily morning meeting the one place to get tasks that need to be completed. Instant messages, emails, text messages, and other forms of communication make it possible for anyone to get in touch with someone virtually anywhere in the world. Instead of being bothered by a boss that’s 3 cubicles down and distracted by their demands, anyone with an internet connection can create a distraction. By multitasking these events, it becomes possible to create a structure of sanity in a world of information that is truly chaotic.
What Are the Cons of Multitasking?
1. It creates a lot of time loss.
The act of switching between one task to another creates a time gap, even in those that are well versed in the skill of multitasking. The average amount of time it takes someone to switch tasks is 15 minutes. Our brains work a lot like computers. You’ve got to shut down one app to open up another app or switch between them if they both can be open and there’s no getting around this fact.
2. There is a limited amount of energy every day.
When a person wakes up, there is a finite amount of energy that can be provided as output over the course of a day. Multitasking divides this energy up and the time it takes to switch between tasks takes up even more energy. Now add in the frustration that typically comes with multiple distractions, the time it takes to focus down on a specific chore, and other filtering needs and a lot of energy can be gone before anything ever gets done.
3. It eliminates certain personal skills.
Multitasking through modern technology has become so prevalent for some that they’ve lost their inter-personal skills. People have social needs that technology just can’t replace. Sometimes you’ve got to speak with someone in order to get something accomplished in the correct way and emails are not a substitute for an actual phone call. Too much multitasking makes someone an island, even if they are surrounded by others. Eventually that isolation creates feelings of loneliness, sadness, and despair that may even lead to mental health concerns that must be addressed.
4. It encourages procrastination.
“I’ll get that finished tomorrow.” “I’ve got another 15 minutes.” “This project is a little more important than that project.” Multitasking encourages procrastination through false confidence. We believe that things don’t have to be accomplished and can wait so we can focus on something else. Over time, this even causes people to ignore deadlines or even project instructions. Why does this happen? Fatigue. Multitasking causes mental fatigue and this makes people less effective.
5. It becomes more difficult to accomplish something that is important.
Most of the multitasking that gets done involves the simplest components of a project possible. That’s because the mind naturally limits what we feel like we can and cannot accomplish during the day. If we get lots of simple things accomplished for lots of projects, we feel pretty awesome because it feels like we accomplished a lot. The only problem is that our mind has fooled itself into thinking this. In reality, virtually nothing got done despite all the hard work.
6. A distracted mind may become permanent.
Habits develop in about 2-3 weeks for the average person. This means the distracted mind can quickly become the normal state of mind for people if they’re trying to multitask constantly. Suddenly the need to be multitasking affects every aspect of life. Instead of spending time with their family, for example, someone may need to have the TV on, be on social media, and speaking with their kids about their homework simultaneously. The greater distraction becomes silence.
The multitasking pros and cons show that this practice is not for everyone. It may cause more harm than good. If you can instantly switch between tasks with a minor time gap, then it may be possible to be effective at this skill. For the average person, however, the best path to take may be to complete just one task at a time, no matter what a hiring manager might want to see.