Many of us feel the need to respond to multiple demands by trying to do everything at once. But in doing so, we never really focus on one thing, which can impair cognitive ability. So why do we multitask? We often feel time poor and it can be difficult to know when to take a break or switch off, especially when we’ve been working from home more since COVID-19 hit. Let’s take a look at the importance of mindfulness and how it could be more beneficial for your productivity levels – and your health – than multitasking.
You can do it all – just not at once and remember to take breaks
Most business owners face a constant stream of incoming information across email, phone enquiries and social media notifications. And, the information may even increase as more of our interactions move online and we work from home. The downside of checking every alert immediately while managing other business activities is that you will inevitably stop what you are doing multiple times throughout the course of a project. The importance of taking a break can fall down the priority ladder when you have multiple tasks outstanding and trying to finish them all at once. Stanford researchers found that when study participants dealt with multiple streams of information at once, they were unable to filter out the information that was irrelevant to the current task.
Our tip: Work in mindful intervals and take breaks in between tasks – taking a moment between tasks gives you a mental break and allows you to shift your brain from the first task to the next. Once your attention has been refocused, give it 100% until it’s time to switch to the next task. When you are first starting this method, you could try setting a timer to hold you accountable to the time you have allocated to each task.
The business effects of multitasking
Multitasking can result in a loss of up to 40% of productive time. This is because every time your mind switches tasks it creates a brief mental block. But juggling several things at once is more than a timewaster – a lapse in concentration can make you more likely to slip up. For example, if you are speaking on the phone while writing an email, you could accidentally send classified information to the wrong recipient, which could have serious consequences and result in reputational and even financial damage to your business.
Our tip: Productivity expectations come from the top down, so if your team feels like they have autonomy to work at their own pace, this can remove some of the pressure that fuels a constant need to do more in less time. To mitigate the effects of multitasking consider encouraging scheduled email checking (say, once every hour, instead of whenever a new email comes through), or another time management strategy that suits your business activities.
The health benefits of mindfulness
Multitasking has been found to increase stress, especially if every task is important. The body’s natural response to this stress is to pump more adrenaline and other stress hormones, which can put a strain on a person’s body over time. Chronic job-related stress can lead to burnout, emotional exhaustion and physical conditions, like musculoskeletal pain and even heart disease. However, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help improve mental health, reduce stress, increase focus and even have a positive impact on your physical health. As more of us are working from home, it’s especially important to be more mindful of when work ends and time to unwind begins.
Our tip: Practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean you need to dedicate an hour to meditation each day. Try taking one minute in between work tasks to sit down and focus on your breathing or go for a walk around the block at the end of the day without listening to music or checking your phone. Experiment with different strategies to find works for you so you can start experiencing the benefits of mindfulness for yourself.
Rather than allowing technology to become a distraction, try using it to your advantage to minimise the temptation to multitask. You could trial things like muting certain program notifications for a period of time, deleting a distracting social app for a few days, or subscribing your team to a meditation app like Headspace. Consider opening up the discussion with your team to discover what could help them work more mindfully.