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3 Myths About Multi-Tasking You Can’t Afford to Believe

Multitasking

I can do that!

If you’re a go-getter with a competitive streak, this phrase probably feels like an old friend. Someone needs a report? You can do that. Have an important email to answer? You can do that, too. Big project with a looming deadline? You guessed it, you can do it. And because you’re unstoppable, you can do it all at the same time.

I used to feel impressive after an entire workday spent juggling multiple tasks. “Look at all these irons I have in the fire!” I’d think to myself. I had created and adopted the false story that busy and important were one in the same.

I think women are particularly prone to the misconception that multi-tasking well equates to delivering value. We feel like the best versions of ourselves when our work, family, health, and happiness seem balanced. We’re GOOD at maintaining that “balance,” too – even science says so! 

Here’s the thing about juggling. You know who juggles? Clowns and circus performers, because juggling is kind of a “silly” thing to do, right? It’s not really something rooted in the workplace. And you know what happens when Average Joes and Normal Nancys try to juggle? Disaster (I dare all you I-can-do-that-ers to give it a whirl and report back if you don’t believe me).

As it turns out, multi-tasking doesn’t make you a beast at your job, it makes you perform poorly and more stressed. Here are 3 myths about multi-tasking you can’t afford to believe if you want to be successful at work:

MYTH #1 – You can actually multi-task.

The human brain is incapable of focusing on multiple tasks at one time. What feels like us doing multiple things at once is actually just our attention bouncing from task to task at a rapid-fire pace. So while you feel like you’re actively working on many things, you’re actually focused on nothing, and it’s safe to say that tasks performed without focus really aren’t being performed well. So there’s a scientific reason you have a to-do “list” and not a to-do “cloud.”

MYTH #2 – Multi-tasking demonstrates you are a smart, capable employee.

Trying to do something your brain physically cannot do isn’t a smart choice… literally. A study by the University of London revealed that those who attempted to multi-task while performing cognitive tasks actually experienced IQ drops not unlike those for people under the influence of marijuana or deprived a night of sleep. Trying to multi-task also leads to the brain increasing cortisol (the stress hormone) production, leaving our brains overworked and exhausted.

MYTH #3 – Multi-tasking means you’re getting work done more efficiently. 

It takes time for your brain to switch back and forth between tasks, so you’re losing time, not saving it, not to mention the time wasted forgetting what you were working on and having to re-remember or re-perform certain parts of the task. Multi-tasking also makes you more prone to errors and mistakes, which results in more lost time as you go back and right the wrongs.

Want to work effectively? Your best bet is to simply put one foot in front of the other. There’s a reason the expression is “slow and steady wins the race” – performing tasks one at a time is actually the most efficient and accurate way to do your work. Some easy first steps are turning off your email notifications, putting away your cell phone, and minimizing social media. If there’s anything the world can wait for, it’s you working like a rockstar.