We all want to be our most productive selves, and today we have an array of technology and tools available to help us do just that. When we combine this desire with having a lot to do, many of us make an attempt at multitasking; the act of doing multiple activities simultaneously. It may be something complicated, like trying to update a spreadsheet while leading a conference call, or it may be something as simple as checking your work email during family dinner — multitasking is a constant in our lives.
However; the same technology, tools, and methods that help us be more productive, may actually be hurting us.
Ultimately, our effectiveness coming down to two key factors: Our capacity to think critically and our ability to build positive relationships with other people. In any situation where the relationship matters to you or critical thinking is required, multitasking can have a negative impact.
Issue #1: Thinking Critically
We only have so much attention, and when we dilute it between multiple activities, we tend to lose focus. Imagine that you were trying to play baseball with two baseballs at once — odds are, you’re not going to be able to hit both with equal force and skill. Multitasking works the same way — odds are, you’re not able to complete both tasks with equal skill and attention.
Making good decisions requires us to access the executive portion of the brain; the part that handles planning and self control and brings our thoughts and actions into alignment with our internal goals. It also requires use of the pre-frontal cortex, which is the heart of our ability to think critically. When asked to do too much, our brains simply don’t have the capacity to do justice to any of the tasks at hand, leading to more errors and lapses in judgment. If it’s just a simple, inconsequential task, then this isn’t a big deal. However, when it comes to something that matters, you should focus your full attention on it to make the best possible decision.
Issue #2: Building Relationships
Often, multitasking can lead to sending the wrong message to people we care about. When you’re engaged in a conversation with someone, it’s easy to tell when you don’t have their full attention. It sends a message about the importance that they place on that interaction and that relationship, and it can in turn damage the relationship. This is especially critical in the customer service field, as you may never get a second chance to salvage a relationship with a customer.
Imagine if you called up the cable company to fix an issue, and every time you say something you’re being answered with “what?” “can you repeat that?” “sorry, I wasn’t listening.” Odds are, you’d be extremely frustrated, and you probably would rather take your business elsewhere then continue to work with a company that doesn’t value your relationship and your time.
From a personal perspective, multitasking is just a bad idea. On top of potentially harming relationships, you also run the risk of potentially harming yourself. Trying to tackle too many things at once has both physiological and psychological impacts, not limited to anxiety, increased stress levels, and sleeplessness.
Take time to hit the pause button every now and again to ensure you’re not burning yourself out. Identify which activity to work on at a given time, and give it your undivided attention. Not only will this positively impact you personally, but it will better your relationships and allow you to think more critically and clearly.