t is a somewhat conflicting concept. If, on the one hand, there are those who see multitasking as an advantage in the world of work, on the other hand, there are more and more specialists who consider the relationship between multitasking and an increase in productivity to be a real myth: "We start to lose focus, we make mistakes and there are more and more lapses", says psychologist Teresa Rebelo Pinto.
And there’s more than that. From a mental health point of view, doing more than one action at the same time also has some consequences: "we run the risk of increasing levels of frustration and irritability, disturbing general well-being and the capacity to regulate emotions". In addition, not being able to finish one task and move on to the next can be a sign of anxiety, Teresa warns.
Coverflex spoke to psychologist Teresa Rebelo Pinto, who is also a sleep specialist, about the impact of multitasking on productivity, mental health and sleep.
It is very common to associate multitasking with productivity. Is it correct to make this association or is it just a myth?
If it’s an exception or for a short period of time, multitasking can be beneficial for reaching a greater number of goals. The problem is that, at a certain point, we start to lose focus, we make mistakes and our lapses increase. Basic things start to slip away from us very easily.
In reality, having your mind on several topics at the same time means that you are not 100% on any of them, and this can be unproductive and even, in some cases, fatal.
For example, sending an email while cooking is a sure-fire way to get burned or to drop your phone in the soup. Besides that, the urgent email will probably not get there or will have more or less relevant errors.
Can multitasking compromise our mental health? In what way?
Our brain has its limits. Even with many resources available, it is simply not possible to keep demanding more and more attention to new tasks that we add to our daily routine. We can compare the ability to pay attention to something like a monthly budget. If we spend more than we take in, we start to get into debt, generating imbalance and financial strain. Our brain works in a similar way: if we are constantly demanding more energy than we have available, something will start to fail.
From a mental health point of view, we run the risk of increasing levels of frustration and irritability, disrupting general well-being and the ability to regulate emotions. On the other hand, not being able to finish a task and move on to the next one can be a sign of anxiety and/or difficulty in setting limits or prioritising our actions.
Usually, the younger generations - and women - are labelled as being more prone to multitasking. Could this categorisation create even more pressure on their life, both in the family sphere and the professional one?
The expectations that are generated around an age group or a group can be very dangerous. When women are expected, for example, to be perfect at performing all kinds of roles, from entrepreneurs in the professional sphere to good mothers and devoted wives, exemplary housewives and still sociable and focused on beauty and aesthetics, there is certainly a misconception that it is possible (and desirable!) to be everywhere at once.
If we are not able to value these various areas of our life differently, we will spend the day blaming ourselves for always failing in any of them. It is crucial to learn to manage external pressure and to define, based on what is most important for each one of us, what our priorities are. And then be realistic, of course.
There are specialists who relate multitasking to the quality of sleep. How does one influence the other?
To sleep, you need to "disconnect" from what's going on outside. It's as if it were a moment to turn inwards and, in a certain way, dedicate ourselves to just one activity: sleep.
When we have difficulty in making this cut with the day, it becomes difficult to maintain quality sleep. It seems that the brain never stops, there is a kind of whirlwind of ideas inside our head that prevents us from falling asleep peacefully.
It is fundamental that people understand that in order to sleep well you have to learn to switch off and do one thing at a time.
Three tips for being productive without having to resort to multitasking.
1. Start the day by writing a (short!) to-do list and choose only one as a priority. If there is time after that one, we can move on to the next topic.
2. Not to start a task without having finished the previous one. Use this goal as a motivating factor to close topics, rather than accumulating undone things.
3. Respect the environments we are in (if we are with family, we should avoid working; if we are at work, we shouldn't waste time on social networks or on the phone with friends).