3 Reasons You Need to Stop Multitasking


Real worth is measured in quality, not quantity. You know this instinctively. But if you really believed it, would you attempt to do as much per minute as you currently do? No, you would not.

Multitasking — the compulsion to do it, the persistent belief that you must — is the bane of the modern person. It’s an illusion: It makes you feel productive, but in truth it sucks up your time and costs you far more than you realize.

Here are three very good reasons you should stop multitasking now.

1. You’re not that good at it.
In fact, you’re pretty bad at it, and researchers agree.

In a 2009 Stanford study, researchers asked participants to pay attention to one thing (red rectangles) and ignore the other (blue rectangles). People who considered themselves “heavy multitaskers” performed horribly. Clifford Nass, whose findings are published in the August 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, called them “suckers for irrelevancy.” They simply couldn’t stop paying attention to the blue rectangles. Real-world translation: The red rectangles are the things you want to focus on, and the blue rectangles are pretty much everything else.

Researchers tried to figure out what was really going on with heavy multitaskers and gave them every chance to prove they had scary talent. Maybe they have better memories, they surmised, or maybe they switch better from task to task. No and no. They underperformed on every task, every time.

"They couldn't help thinking about the task they weren't doing," Eyal Ophir, the study's lead author and a researcher in Stanford's Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, says. "The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can't keep things separate in their minds."

2. It’s bad for you.
The Stanford researchers also found that doing more than one thing at a time makes you less able to focus, filter information, and switch tasks compared with people who don’t attempt to do everything at once. Ultimately, this compromises your ability to prioritize and therefore make good decisions.

It also doesn’t do much for your image. If you tell a client or potential employer you’re a multitasker, you’re basically saying, “I can’t get stuff done because I don’t know what’s important.” Um, next?

Start by taking it off your resume, for one. (Also, recruiters, employers, HR reps — stop saying you want multitaskers! Because you don’t!)

Branding strategist Erica Breuer, founder of cakeresumes.com, has helped everyone from solopreneurs to C-level execs create compelling profiles and resumes, and she agrees that multitasking is out. “What’s far more important to highlight in your resume and on LinkedIn is your ability to strategize, prioritize, and delegate. That’s the mark of a solid candidate and a true leader — not your ability to multitask.”

3. It makes life less fun.
You might enjoy media multitasking (e.g., checking your phone during TV commercials) because, according to one study, it makes time seem to go faster. But another study, published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that increased media multitasking led to higher rates of depression and social anxiety.

I noticed this myself when I started thinking that American Horror Story wasn’t as compelling anymore — until I realized I’d been watching it with my phone in hand. I was making my time worth less.

Doing multiple tasks at once softens the edges of boredom, but it works only to a point. Because multitasking can’t and doesn’t make everything more interesting. In fact, it does the opposite: It keeps you from being absorbed by something that truly is interesting.

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