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5 Examples of How Multitasking Can Be Bad

By Kim Petch

How Multitasking Can Cost YouDavid Dunham once said, “Efficiency is intelligent laziness.” Have you ever reached the last bite of food on your plate and really savored it? Did you wish you had done the same with all the other bites? At that point, you might realize that it was your other tasks (television, filing your taxes, or chatting on the phone) that distracted you from realizing how great a meal your wife had cooked.

Sometimes we’re too busy multitasking to really appreciate life’s little pleasures, and that can carry a price in terms of time, money, and quality of life. Today’s fast-paced, information-driven world often demands that we become expert at multitasking. It can be a great way to spend our time more efficiently. After all, who hasn’t found themselves working at their desk during a meal or helping their child with homework while making dinner? In fact, multitasking is one of the key job skills that employers are looking for.

There’s no question that multitasking can be a great way to take care of our responsibilities so that we can have more time for fun stuff later. We can surf the web, answer emails, and plan our schedule on our cell phones while sitting in a waiting room or standing in line. Have you ever watched a teenager on Facebook, who is also listening to iTunes, playing a video game, and texting friends at the same time? All of this multitasking begs an important question:

Where Do You Draw the Line?

In some ways, it depends on the person.

For example, on one end of the spectrum, recent studies show that successful multitaskers have the ability to rapidly shift their attention back and forth from one task to another, much like the way computers multitask. They are much more dependable in the short and long-term if they have an affinity for multitasking. Certain types of jobs demand this ability, and researchers are working on ways to identify prospective employees who are good at multitasking. These st

On the end of the spectrum, there is research that links multitasking to increased levels of stress and eventual burnout. Some folks just aren’t hardwired to multitask and perform much more effectively by taking their time and performing each task individually. Asking them to do too much at once leads to lower quality, decreased productivity, and can have serious health implications as well.

But regardless of which type of person you are, there are still situations where you should not multitask.

5 Ways Multitasking Can Cost You

Multitasking can be a great tool, especially for those who excel at it. But like all good tools, it’s important to remember that there are some instances where it’s very effective, and other instances where there are limitations to its effectiveness. Here are a few things to watch out for as you multitask through your day:

1. Some tasks shouldn’t be paired with anything. No matter how good a multitasker you may be, doing just about anything while driving can be fatal to you or to those on the road with you. Talking on the phone, texting, putting on makeup, and shaving while driving are all no-no’s that can cost you a lot more than just having to take some money out of your emergency fund to fix the ding in your car.

2. Multitasking that includes eating should be used sparingly. Many of us eat our lunch at our desks while working, or watch TV while eating. Be aware, however, that research shows that we tend to eat more when we do other things while we eat. This can cost you in terms of decreased health and wellness, as well as decreased enjoyment, and higher food expenses. Multitasking can seriously detract from trying to maintain healthy lifestyle habits.

3. Increased productivity can lead to decreased quality. Maybe you can accomplish a lot more by doing two or more things at once, but what does the finished product look like? Is multitasking really more efficient if you have to do some of those tasks over, or your customer or boss is dissatisfied?

4. Multitasking can steal the enjoyment of the moment. Paying close attention to a piece of music, a line of text, a bite of food, or even a work-related task can bring about a level of satisfaction and enjoyment that is sometimes lost if we’re doing something else at the same time. To be sure, some tasks aren’t necessarily meant to be enjoyed, but it’s important to make sure we don’t get so good at multitasking that we forget to savor the ones that are.

5. True relaxation can become obsolete. Our “always-on” society has lost its appreciation for the need to occasionally turn off. Not only do many of us find it unacceptable to take time to do nothing in order to recharge ourselves, but we also sometimes sneer at those who are only doing one task at a time. Have you ever heard someone brag about surviving on 4 hours of sleep? It’s not fun!

Multitask in Moderation

There’s no doubt that, in some situations, multitasking can increase our efficiency and allow us more time at the end of the day to do the things we really love. It can be costly, however, in terms of quality, enjoyment, health, and even money. If we’re busy trying to squeeze productivity out of every minute of the day, we might forget to actually take the necessary time to rejuvenate ourselves for tomorrow’s challenges.

Taking a break can be a great investment. So the next time you find yourself wolfing down a snack while reading an important document, think about whether it might be better to take five minutes to really savor your snack. After that, you can get right back to your document with a fresh set of eyes and a clearer perspective.

Do you have any tips on how to use multitasking in moderation?

Kim Petch
Kim is the writer behind Balance Junkie, a blog about personal finance, economics, investing, and life balance. You can also find her articles featured on Seeking Alpha. She's a big fan of her three sons, paying down the mortgage and baseball - in that order.

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Comments

  • http://www.retireby40.org Joe

    Doh! I was eating a piece of chocolate while reading your article. Now it’s all gone and I didn’t savor it as much as I wanted to. :(
    I am doing way too much multitasking these days, it’s difficult to think straight. I need a vacation away from all these gadgets and connectivity so I can recharge.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com Kim Petch

      Go ahead and take that gadget holiday. Disconnecting for a little while can make you a lot more productive when you reconnect. I’m not always the best at taking my own advice, but that doesn’t keep me from trying! ;)

      How about another chocolate?

      • Stronguloidies

        I have heard that multi-tasking difficulties is linked to wifi in the environment. The brain can only hold onto so much information at once; 7 digits. Now try exposure to microwave radiation and then poof ADHD and dislexia all over again. I used to be great holding several bits of information in my head at a time, proof of being a good chess player. This Microwave radiation from cell phone towers, WIFI devices, cell phones, and tv digital box converters needs to be revisited. Good Luck!

  • http://www3.bell.net/slackerjo/ Slackerjo

    I don’t mind multitaskers if their multitasking does not affect another person. When they try to do six million things at once and make someone’s life/job miserable, that’s when I develop a deep seeded hatred for these people.

    I work in tech support and every single day I have to deal with people who want me to magically fix their issue (which 80% of the time THEY caused) but since they are also feeding the baby, taking calls on the other line, and yelling at somebody in the background, they lack the focus to understand basic instructions, like right click or left click, or terms like “upper right hand corner.” I have to repeat every single step 3-4 times and explain pretty basic things over and over again because the person is not paying attention. Ultimately a 4 minute call stretches into 24 minutes because the person I am speaking to is preoccupied.

    There is a time and place for multitasking. There is NOT a time and place for multitasking. People need to learn the difference. Just like drugs or drinking or any other vice, if your multitasking is affecting another person in a negative way, it’s a BAD thing!

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com Kim Petch

      Great point. It’s even more difficult if you live with someone who’s addicted to multitasking. No down time for them can also mean no down time for you. At some point, I guess we need to draw our own lines and decide how much we’re willing to participate in that.

      The scenario you describe, however, doesn’t really allow too much room for drawing boundary lines. I guess we all need to be more aware of how our actions affect others. Thanks for pointing that out!

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