Multitasking Is It Good or Evil

focus Dec 02, 2021

It's easy to see why multitasking is so tempting. We're all busy and it seems like we can do more in less time when we work on multiple projects at once. But research has shown that our brain can't actually handle doing two tasks simultaneously, which means that the quality of both will suffer. So what are your thoughts? Is multitasking good or evil? Let’s explore this a little further.


As many of you know I’ve been spending a lot of time on Clubhouse because I enjoy connecting, inspiring, and learning from others on the app.  It has also increased the time I spend multitasking because I’ve been drawn in by the lure of not wanting to miss out on a conversation. I find myself “clubhousing” while checking emails or making lunch.  Right in line with the oxford definition the performance of more than one task at the same time. I get into trouble when I try to “clubhouse” and complete more demanding tasks.  For example, if I’m reviewing and deleting emails (no problem).  If I come across an email that requires me to read or respond thoughtfully, that’s where I fail.


This leads me to the question...why can multitasking work sometimes but set us up for failure on other days? How does it affect your productivity? The answer is best illustrated using Chris Bailey’s description of attentional space from his book Hyperfocus

Attentional space is the amount of mental capacity we have available to focus and process.  We may have a million things coming at us at once but we only have a finite space to process a portion of those things.  Tasks make different demands on attention space depending on complexity.  The tasks can be habits that require minimal focus or complex requiring dedicated focus.


In the illustration above you can see the first circle of attentional space is where multitasking works.  There are 3 small circles or habit tasks that require little focus and allow you to easily multitask.


The second circle is the dark side of multitasking.  In this example, you are trying to have a deep conversation while also making coffee.  The conversation is requiring so much of your attention that you’re likely to spill coffee grounds all over the place.  There isn’t enough attentional space to accommodate both tasks.


In order to prevent any coffee mishaps and avoid the evils of multitasking, we need to look at the last diagram.  This is what Bailey has termed hyperfocus.  You have eliminated distractions and given the task at hand all of your attention.  


A post about multitasking wouldn’t be complete without a warning about the dangers of attention residue.  Research shows our brains aren’t good at switching back and forth between tasks. When we switch from Task A to  Task B), part of our attention often stays with the prior task (Task A) instead of fully transferring to the next one (Task B). Attention Residue is when part of our attention is focused on another task instead of being fully devoted to the current task that needs to be performed. 


Want a hack to put a stop to attention residue? Stay tuned to my IG tomorrow at 11:30 am PST.  


As you can see, multitasking has a good and evil side. I hope this post gave you some great insight into how to do it successfully! Sign up for our clarity crafting session today to learn more about how to set up your work environment for maximum focus and I’ll help you choose the right tools to get more done each day.

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