5 Reasons Why Multitasking Actually Works (And Supplements Focus Mode)

Multitasking is a habit of many people who want to get many things done at a time. 

More specifically, according to the American Psychology Association, multitasking is done by performing at least two tasks simultaneously, switching from one task to another, and working on two or more tasks speedily.

But, it is easy to get distracted, tap into your favorite social media, watch YouTube videos, get on the phone with a colleague or a friend, and forget about the core tasks you were supposed to work on. These distractions can negatively affect your focus, meaning that the quality of your work may be impaired. 

It’s important to note that while multitasking might seem efficient, research has shown that it can lead to minimal productivity and quality of work. Human cognitive resources have limits, and when attention is divided between multiple tasks, it can lead to increased errors, decreased focus, and longer completion times for each job.

With that said, is multitasking all that bad? 

The answer is no. Multitasking exists for a reason and you just have to know where and how to employ it, and when it is best to double down on the tasks you treasure the most. 

There are tons of reasons I multitask on a weekly basis. In fact, just right now, I am having a walk at the park and only dictating through Otter.ai. Instead of sitting and just focusing on writing a blog which usually takes hours, I am spending the time to recharge and get inspiration from nature, exercising, and making sure I keep my body checked while producing this and that. 

And while this may seem trivial, it is actually a fact. If you consider multitasking a type of skill that you value, it is best to try to kill multiple birds with one stone which is going to help you achieve better results in no time. Your employees’ multitasking may actually even help you. Just invest time in training them on their productivity instead of being burdened with it.

Now, let us reveal a few examples of when multitasking actually works.

1. During “On Call” 

If you are waiting for a call, you might want to check some emails for inquiries. If you have responded to emails and you are now just waiting for their responses, you have to deal with some free time that is good for other activities. You cannot simply wait the entire time, right?  You may want to try to take your mind off of things by looking for some distractions in the meantime and trying to keep yourself awake especially if you work during the night shift. 

People have different habits. Some like scrolling Facebook, some are constantly playing online video games or maybe watching Netflix while they’re waiting. And that’s totally fine. 

In certain cases wherein you are doing outreach, general support, you may actually have multiple tabs open at the same time. This is done so you do not only focus on one activity or one person at the same time. But if it takes them three minutes to respond, it doesn’t make sense to waste all the time just waiting for the follow-up message. 

Think about your weekend chats with your friends on Facebook and Instagram. You have probably chatted multiple ones while they’re responding in between grabbing some coffee, answering calls, or ordering. In that case, it is a pure example of multitasking. 

2. Informal Interviews

This form of interview usually happens at coffee shops and even on Sundays, outside of the normal office setup. Just last year, I hired two people that way. That is to say that you can perform certain activities like grabbing your favorite cup of coffee, maybe grabbing lunch, or having a workout session while talking to someone for an interview.

There are certain environments that can help you gauge their potential even better and there’s a good reason for that. The world is set up to multitask for the most part. What you really need to focus on is not wasting your time doing anything.

One of the tools I really enjoy when it comes to informal interviews is ZipMessage. It’s a wonderful virtual instrument that supports all sorts of asynchronous communication – video, audio recordings, screencasts, text, and attachments. I’ve conducted several interviews via Zip following the same model – starting a new topic with the applicant, recording an intro video, and sharing with them for a follow-up response.

Applicants can decide on the best medium for a response – a follow-up video, audio, or text. This provides sufficient flexibility to react depending on everyone’s communication style – respectable enough to introverts or while interacting in a loud environment not suitable for audio. It’s extremely effective in an international environment as well, communicating across the globe and between time zones. If you have a dozen applicants lined up, it’s one of the best ways to get the communication rolling immediately instead of spanning availability across the next two weeks for initial meetings.

3. Meetings

One of the reasons I rarely take meetings is the fact that I need to be fully present. Sometimes, meetings are necessary especially if it’s a big discussion on sales strategy, a strategic decision you need to cascade yourself, or a legal meeting about a specific contract. But most of the time, you can simply coordinate asynchronously and explain certain matters without having to meet.

That is why I prefer brief emails over any other communication. But considering the multitude of different channels and communication styles, my workaround is simply piping all forms of communication back to my email, including:

  • Project management system tasks/comments
  • CRM updates
  • Contact form submissions
  • Partnership pitches
  • Social updates (new LinkedIn messages or tweets or so)
  • Other communication channels (such as ZipMessage) emailing back when a response comes in

This makes it easy to filter different communication channels and focus on batch types of work.

And more importantly, when a meeting is needed, I would rather prepare a short deck and share it in an email thread or a task for follow-up questions instead of wasting 40 minutes in a back-and-forth and disorganized discussion that leaves everything to the imagination.

An experienced leader specializing in async communication can even organize truly async meetings. Fellow.app‘s motto, for instance, is “No agenda – no attenda” – meetings that don’t include agenda just never happen. More importantly, since the action plan is clear, Fellow is a great tools that allows for compiling notes, comments, reports – and if everything is settled, the synchronous meeting can just be canceled instead.

4. Learning

I am very passionate about learning. I make sure that I always find the time to learn even while doing other things such as cycling or taking a walk as a form of exercise. I make sure I spend time reading books, and listening to podcasts, or audiobooks among others.

There are so many things to learn or refresh yourself with these days. No matter what you do, do not stop learning.

Allocating your spare time to catch up on podcasts, YouTube shows, your RSS feed, or Pocket can be a great filler that is accomplishing, not wasteful. Waiting for a dental appointment, walking the dog out, doing some shopping at the mall can be combined with the right learning medium for maximum efficiency.

And even if you decide to just relax for good (and take some rest) – listening to your Discover Weekly or the latest album of your favorite band is a good enough filler as well. If your commute is long, you can even watch the latest Netflix shows on the go instead of staying in late the night before and cutting on sleep.

5. Driving

Another example of when you can multitask is when you are driving, particularly when it is a long drive. This is really a good time to be doing certain stuff like listening to the radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. 

Your multitasking skills can be of great help especially when you are driving with ongoing heavy traffic that refrains you from going on a blitz to your target location. Instead of getting easily annoyed by having to be on the road for so long, you can find things to do while you are in the car. 

Actually, it is the same when you are on a walk or trying to exercise. You can do more than two activities at once without affecting your focus on any one of the two activities at the same time. Others even get to meditate while talking to family members! Well, it is just really a matter of who you are spending time with in these cases wherein your mood matters a lot.

Other than the ones listed above, the following are also some of the forms or examples of multitasking in the workplace (whether virtual or physical).

  • Managing multiple social media accounts
  • Setting customers’ appointments
  • Staring a conversation or carrying on a small talk 
  • Taking calls while notating or recording
  • Taking multiple orders at the same time
  • Handling multiple client concerns via email or chat support

Achieve higher productivity and greater efficiency if you hone certain multitasking skills. An article at Indeed is right to enumerate Organization, Prioritization, Scheduling, and Delegation as some of the skills you must develop in order to reap the rewards of multitasking. 

Communication is also an area you can develop to ensure that when multitasking, you will leave no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation which can happen when you move fast.

But, essentially, remember to keep the following pointers in mind in order to improve your multitasking skills:

  • Create a to-do list
  • Set Your Priorities Right
  • Categorize similar tasks
  • Delegate among your team members
  • Implement and refine your processes

Do you have any tips that you could add to the list? Feel free to share in the comments!

Your thoughts?