Many of us live extremely busy lives and multitasking seems to be the norm in the workplace these days. Even if you work for yourself, you may well find yourself bogged down in multitasking as a range of responsibilities falls to you.
Multitasking as the norm
We call it ‘multitasking’, as we rush around appearing to do several different things at once!
But in the workplace, it can reduce efficiency, the ability to prioritise, to be creative and it raises our levels of stress.
As a society we are cutting peoples’ jobs so that individuals have to handle even more in their roles. By favouring multitasking, we are becoming a nation of stressed-out and unconscious beings.
One task at a time
These views are based on a growing body of research. Some of this was highlighted at the Cranfield International Conference (2014) on ‘Mindfulness at Work’ which I attended.
Jeremy Hunter, author of ‘Can I Have my Sanity Back’, spoke of his research which shows that we benefit from cultivating and managing our attention.
We may find ourselves bouncing back and forth from one demand to another. Yet we are best served when we can concentrate on one task at a time.
When you implement mindfulness, it has been found to reduce stress levels and work-related illness. This includes a reduction in blood pressure. *
Hunter suggests that if we are to become a more attention-focused society, we would not favour multitasking.
And are women better at multitasking than men? or is this borne out of necessity?
Cutting jobs in the workplace
When we cut jobs, individuals each have more work than they can handle. We see this in many places of work, such as our NHS system.* Mistakes, burnout and inefficiency are just some of the results when staff have to deal with far more than is realistically possible.
You may well have experienced stress related to multitasking yourself. Even in your own home environment you may find this.
Maybe you’ve become aware of something as simple as background noise. You need to switch off the radio because you can’t listen and read properly together.
The radio noise has become intrusive requiring you to concentrate on something important. This is simple to do.
But in the workplace you may be in an open-plan environment. Here you are bombarded by constant distractions while you are still expected to deal smoothly with your tasks.
Multitasking is bad for your health
And when did we become such slaves to technology?
At our fingertips we have the ability to keep an overall eye on everything. There are incoming emails and texts on our mobiles. We dip in and out of news bulletins, Facebook and Twitter updates and social requests.
We’re addicted to being distracted!
During this process, we are not actually multitasking, rather our brain is switching from one task to another very rapidly.
This cognitive process lags behind each time we swap our focus and can lead to a feeling of overwhelm.
Here lies the myth of multitasking – this juggling of two or more tasks simultaneously, leads to more stress and more mistakes!
We may be multitasking, but there is a price to pay for this.
Multitasking while driving
This is a growing trend. It applies to incidents involving both hands-free and hand-held mobile devices.
Scans show that the area of the brain which processes movement, decreases by a third when involved in listening to someone on a phone.
I know from my own experience that I prefer driving without the distraction of talking with a passenger. It might make me appear aloof but I’d rather keep us all safe!
The body’s response to stress
Many of us know that each day we are dealing with numerous tasks and it is the adrenaline rush that keeps us going.
We ignore the body’s attempts to warn us that it is experiencing stress. The adrenaline and extra cortisol flooding our body detracts from the brain’s ability to concentrate.
We then conduct our work less expertly. Or we do our very best and in the end, our health suffers. 10.4 million working days a year are lost due to work-related stress in the UK.**
How employers can help
Awareness from employers is key to addressing these issues.
This alleviates the constant distraction of requests and demands. It allows staff to focus in relative peace on the tasks of editing and designing.
The NHS is starting to implement Mindfulness Courses for its staff and even Transport for London offer Mindfulness based programmes to their workers. Absences for all health conditions were halved from their report in 2010.***
Childcare is expensive and can be difficult to find. This continues to make life stressful for millions of parents, especially women. They have no choice but to attempt multitasking and experience constant exhaustion.
A mindful pause
Decide how you can prioritise your health over a deadline. Take mindful pauses. See how you can focus on one task at a time wherever possible.
And if you can influence wellbeing in your Business or place of work, mention mindfulness! Invite a Mindfulness Guide in to share a Taster Session and help develop some mindfulness skills for everyone. This may:
- Save money in the long term due to less illness.
- Directly correlate with individuals experiencing a greater sense of well-being.
- Increase individual’s focus on completing tasks more efficiently and could even help work relationships run more smoothly.
- Create a more honest and authentic workplace.
- And any good leaders ought to have the capacity to use mindfulness with all it’s essential qualities.
I’d love to hear whether your workplace has implemented any small changes in order to alleviate the multitasking overwhelm?
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Guide
* Hunter, J. and McCormick, D.: MINDFULNESS IN THE WORKPLACE: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY. 2008 Research into Mindfulness in the Workplace.
* Goodman, M.J. and Schorling, J.B.: A MINDFULNESS COURSE DECREASES BURN-OUT AND IMPROVES WELL-BEING AMONG HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS. 2012, The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 43 (2), 119-28
** Government Statistics for 2012, LABOUR FORCE SURVEY
*** Mental Health Foundation, MINDFULNESS REPORT (London), 2010, Among participants in a mindfulness-based programme offered to workers at Transport for London, 80% of participants said their relationships had got better. Absences for all health conditions were halved.
Follow this video link for an alternative solution to ‘multi-tasking’ called Monotasking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YNeyBANrTI)
Updated blog post July 2014