Computers can multi-task: as you’re reading this, you probably have multiple programs running and multiple web browser tabs open.
Unfortunately, humans do not function quite the same. You may think that multi-tasking improves your productivity. But the truth is, when we multitask, we are actually switching from one activity or focus to another. This can exhaust your brain, decreasing your productivity.
Below are examples of bad multitasking scenarios, and what you can do to improve your productivity.
Answering multiple emails simultaneously
This is applicable to both academic and professional situations. If you have multiple emails to respond to and you have them open in multiple browsers or tabs, it is possible that an email you intended for a friend instead goes to your manager. The outcome of this can be anything from an embarrassing and funny story for the break room or you having to clear out your desk.
Finish your email responses one by one to avoid this situation. Before you hit send, read through your email: is it grammatically sound and appropriate to the recipient? Alternatively, create multiple email accounts. One account is reserved for professional conversations only, and for this account, you can create professional email signature and canned responses. When you sign into this account, get your professional-person hat on.
Texting while in a meeting or lecture
Everyone has probably been guilty of this: you hear a ping and before you know it, you’re in the middle of composing a witty text response—while you are supposed to be listening to the presenter at the front of the room. You may think that you can still absorb the presentation while texting a brief “LOL” but even this small action will cause a break in your focus. You could be missing out on a crucial piece of information, without which the rest of the presentation would make no sense.
Make it a habit to turn off your phone at the beginning of any lecture or meeting. The smaller the audience, the more likely the presenter will notice any disruption. If you’re someone who needs to have something occupy your hands, take notes during the meeting or lecture. You don’t need to write down everything that is being said, but make a note of anything important, especially dates, as well as anything you are responsible for.
Generally speaking, multi-tasking should be avoided in the professional and academic worlds, where focus and concentration are necessary to produce great work. Disruptions are commonplace but it is important that you do not simultaneously deal with disruptions while continuing to work or study.