What if I told you that multi-tasking was the biggest inefficient skill you had?
As women, we were sold this lie about the power of multitasking to ensure we continue working harder and producing standard work while never realizing our full intellectual capacity. It literally is what most of us are doing subconsciously.
We are encouraged to list multitasking on our CVs, do it at any opportunity, and even aim to get better at it. However, the sad reality is that it is actually a silent productivity assassin when it comes to performance and achieving maximum results, which makes us neither efficient nor effective.
Multitasking refers to the ability to manage multiple responsibilities at once by focusing on one task while keeping track of others. While I agree with this explanation to a degree, I can't help but point out the obvious. Do you really focus on one task if you are keeping track of others? Think about it, focusing on one task would warrant all of our undivided attention, concentration, and effort to complete that one task. However, when we have to keep track of other activities or juggle many things in a short space of time, we instead have divided our attention across all the tasks we have to perform - the chances of doing something wrong or completely missing something increase substantially, and let's face it, we are more likely to be on edge or be stressed.
Now, don't get me wrong; there is a time and place for multitasking. Humans have always had to, unconsciously and consciously, multitask to survive. Fast forward to today, and let's zone in on women for now; whether we are stay-at-home moms or CEOs in a career, we are now multitasking at an incredible, unsustainable rapid pace. This year alone, in the aftermath of the 2020 pandemic, many women, including myself, have had a take on the starring lead role in multitasking; to keep our jobs while running our households, in educating and entertaining our kids, special mention to #Mealplanning (didn't realize how much I'm over that now), attend to our partners and family's needs and in it, all, try to somehow squeeze in some self-care in there while being confined to working at home. Can you relate? You would think that hey, you're still winning; we are somehow smashing it and keeping on top of things, right? Sadly and Unapologetically, we may appear to be, but many are struggling and I partially blame multitasking as one of the reasons we are struggling. This is a major problem, and here's why.
As much as we relish the glory and the appraisal that comes with doing it all (admit it, you love hearing, "you are such a superwoman, you are so strong!"), this needs to stop. 2020 has permitted us to say out loud, 'I do not align with being labeled as a 'strong woman' - yes, I said what I said, now hear me out. Apart from this requiring an article of its own - as there are so many layers to this - for argument's sake, sometimes when you are depicted as being this super-strong woman - whether it's at work or home, it can dehumanize you and make people not see that you can become tired, that you are allowed to feel overwhelmed and that you are worthy of compassion. Yes - Compassion. Compassion refers to empathizing with someone who is suffering and feeling compelled to reduce the suffering. Some may question whether compassion is warranted in this discussion of multi-tasking. It definitely is, because even though it appears as though, an enormous load of tasks are being completed effortlessly, it doesn't mean that the load is not heavy.
When people at work, at home, or on social media see you achieving all those things, they might think that you got this. They might not offer to help as they think that you don't need support or even encouragement.
You need the help deep down, but because you do not get it, you learn to do it all as it just becomes expected.
As much as this highlights your resilience and work ethic, it can become a vicious circle because you are then firmly portrayed as this "Strong woman" who somehow is doing it all when you are just pedaling real hard!
Secondly, the other key reason I have a problem with Multitasking is summed up in this quote "to do two things at once is to do neither" Publilius Syrus. Let us shift context - so think of being at work, thinking of your time, daily tasks, activities, and then thinking of your key deliverables? Now ask yourself what tasks you have been hired to do that no one else can do because you are the best at fulfilling those. At this point, I'll then ask you to think about the other tasks that you do that detract from doing those tasks. I bet there are many. Sometimes we waste our energy, focusing on things that actually don't serve us; we focus on the wrong things; we are not selfish or intentional with our time.
It is essential to recognize that, in reality, we are only switching our attention to different tasks when we multitask. In switching, we are losing willpower, depleting our energy and attention levels.
More importantly, we are decreasing our efficiency and the standard of our work. This is a problem because, over time, this has a cumulative effect to your career due to just continuously producing standard work, just coasting, and just ticking that task as done. This way of life not only affects your results but sadly, it affects your morale over time.
I learned that doing more than one thing at a time was an effective way of getting less done!
Multiple distractions can impede our workflow. Think impromptu conversations, responding to emails when they pop up, scrolling down through social media... If you are working on something that requires your full mental focus, limit the distractions for overall productivity. Research has found that multitaskers make more mistakes, make poorer decisions, and are more likely to be stressed than people who focus on one task at a time. We should be intentional about our time and focus because there are real consequences to continuously engaging in multitasking. Our careers deserve more respect and need to be done well! Don't you owe it to yourself to explore how well you can do a task by devoting and test driving your full mental agility and capacity? I definitely think you do!
While we have established that you can do two or more things at once, we need to remember that we cannot focus on more than one thing at once. The innate desire to multitask can never entirely be eliminated as there is a time and place for managing low-impact tasks. However, for the tasks that matter, such as the deliverables that add value to your brand, your bottom line, reputation, and progression, we need to do better when it comes to focusing. We need to go back to old school proper time management and prioritization. In so doing, we can retrain our brains to work on one thing at a time to truly up to our full brain capability levels. In so doing, we also practice "being in the moment" and become mentally absorbed in what we are doing. Whether in work or with family/kids - don't they deserve your full attention too? I think they do!
Prioritizing the important things that add real value to your life and allow you to be fully present. Could this be the one thing you could commit to doing? We need women committed to bringing their best, not just doing the job but also setting new standards. Women who show up, who bring their full selves to the table and take up space! HerCorporateSpace is about sharing tools, behavioral changes, practical advice, and encouragement to help women realize their potential, to empower them to Take Up Space. I am speaking from experience when I say I tried it in my career, and it has changed my work-life balance for the better.
Why don't you try out this activity below and let me know how you get on:
1. Take time to write out all the things you have to do and want to do in a week- HINT: Let Your Goals and Key deliverables guide this activity
2. Prioritize them in order of importance
3. Reclaim your time!!! Get a diary calendar/planner with hour slots or simply use your phone calendar/Outlook/Gmail Calendar (whatever works) and program your calendar with points 1 & 2 (I do this on a Sunday ahead of the new week, before I log off work for the day and sometimes before bed) I get such a buzz in ticking the completed activities off in my diary calendar! Try it- it's a great motivator!
4. Stick to the slots and the times you have allocated! Be strategic; if you need to block time to check your emails specifically, go on social media or have a break - Block the time, stick to not multitasking in that time and focus on that one task. PS don’t be tempted to go over the allocated time. With proper planning and discipline, you can train your brain to get it done!
The rewards in taking this decision to minimize Multitasking are limitless, to your personal, work, and life balance. Try it. You have absolutely nothing to lose and more productivity to gain!